Researchers have developed a new system enabling medical images to be transferred via mobile phones, which could make imaging technology cheaper and more accessible to poor countries.
According to the WHO, three quarters of the world's population does not have access to medical imaging and more than half of available medical equipment in developing countries is not used due to maintenance problems and lack of trained personnel.
To address this, Boris Rubinsky at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and colleagues separated the components required in a medical imaging system.
A simple device ― one measuring electrical impulses for example ― collects data from the patient in the field. This is transmitted via the mobile phone to a central site where the data is processed, an image produced and sent back to the field, again via the mobile phone.
Using the system, the researchers successfully produced a clear image of a simulated breast cancer tumour.
"The wide availability of cellular phones has suggested that imaging devices do not have to be all in one physical place and that their components can be spread around the world and connected through cellular phones, rather than connected physically with electrical wires," Rubinsky told SciDev.Net.
"The physicians can use their own cellphones to plug into [the data collection device] and send the raw data, in the form of a text message or email, to a geographically distant central facility — that can serve thousands of users — and within seconds sends back the processed image the way you would send a picture to your cellphone," he says.
"This system is economical as the cost of [the data collection device] near the patient site is not a major part of the cost of the entire system, making it less expensive and easier to maintain," he adds.
Rubinsky hopes they can develop a more advanced prototype for the detection of breast cancer within a year.
Morad Ahmed Morad, a professor of medicine at Tanta University, Egypt, says the device is an "ideal example of turning information and communication technology into solutions making a real health impact on lives of poor people in developing countries".
The study was published in PLoS ONE last month (30 April).
PLoS ONE doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0002075 (2008)