05:24am Thursday 09 July 2020

Virtual microscope helps fight against deadly diseases

Red blood cells with malaria parasites and leukemia, as seen through the online microscope

BLOOD scientists in the developing world could be trained faster and better to fight deadly diseases with the help of an MMU-developed online microscope.

Haematology specialists have digitised microscope slides of healthy and infected blood cells for scientists to access in countries where traditional training techniques are in short supply, now backed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The hope is that the slides – which act like a normal microscope and can be zoomed in and out – will ensure experts in developing countries can be trained properly with just an internet connection, as well as teaching UK scientists.

Researchers have already tested the system in Africa where results for blood scientists were encouraging, with individuals becoming better at diagnosing malaria.

From Africa to Afghanistan

And now the online ‘blood gallery’ has been taken on by the WHO and could become an invaluable global tool to combat diseases in the coming years.

Professor Keith Hyde, from MMU, UKNEQAS(H) and the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI), said: “It was to help people to get the right diagnosis for malaria, in a project between the UK and Tanzania.

“We gave students in Tanzania access to virtual microscopes online, then gave them training, then gave them microscopes again and asked them to detect and diagnose malaria. It proved to be quite a good project.

“It offers distance e-learning which can be done at the hospital, bedside or at home. The WHO can make it available from Africa to Afghanistan and it will be cheaper and easier training for scientists.”

‘Significant results’

The blood gallery is currently freely available to the UK, with additional quizzes and certification offered in the North West. Students are given access to the gallery to help in recognition while the quizzes are designed to assess performance, competency and maintain standards.

It is hoped can spread across the country to be used as a vital aid for NHS programmes, such as the Health Care Scientists Training scheme.

“We have statistically significant results that it works to train people, especially those with less experience to start off with,” said Dr Laura Ahmed, a research assistant from the School of Healthcare Science, who developed the gallery.

“An international colleague reported that in Africa people were being wrongly diagnosed with leukaemia because they didn’t know what to look for in the blood cells. It’s an understanding of what a normal white blood cell should look like, and if there’s something wrong, what needs to be identified.”

The blood gallery project was led by MMU academics Prof William Gilmore, Dr Len Seal, Ms Carol Ainley and Prof Keith Hyde. It has been developed over several years, from a collaboration involving the University, MRI, Watford General Hospital and UK NEQAS(H).

 

Manchester Metropolitan University is a leading university for the professions and a powerful driver of the North West economy.

The University educates and trains large numbers of the region’s legal and business professionals, scientists, engineers, teachers, health workers and creative professionals. It enjoys an excellent reputation for teaching and applied research and is a recognised innovator in partnership working with its local communities. The University is currently investing almost £300 million in its estate and facilities.


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