Athelas app blood cancer
The Athelas app can detect various diseases in seconds using a smartphone and a low-cost lens attachment. Tanay Tandan

A smartphone app with camera lens attachment has been developed by a team of scientists that is capable of detecting diseases like cancer and malaria in seconds.

The Athelas app uses a low-cost lens to image blood at high magnification. The app is then able to algorithmically count and identify cells in the bloodstream to automatically diagnose various diseases and conditions.

At a recent hackathon event held by start-up hub Y Combinator, the app won a prize for its innovation.

Athelas blood analysis
The Athelas app

"Despite the critical nature of blood analysis to the medical industry, the process has hardly changed from its long, expensive form for 150 years," Tanay Tandon, the lead developer of Athelas, said in his submission.

"Athelas changes all that. In short, a malaria test that requires no expertise takes a few seconds and costs next to nothing. All on a smartphone - holding the potential to save thousands of lives."

Currently, such tests are carried out by a large blood sample being taken by a nurse or physician, before professionals analyse the blood in a laboratory. This process usually takes a couple of days.

As part of the prize at the hackathon event, Tandon won an interview with YC to further develop Athelas and potentially take it to a commercial market.

Tandon believes that Athelas, through its so-called predictive cell counting, can mimic the process conducted in lab-grade environments in areas where such tests are impossible.

"The product can benefit those in rural and suburban areas alike by providing faster and cheaper alternatives to existing diagnostic procedures," Tandon said.

"In rural areas, the tech will really shine - providing previously unavailable diagnostic skills through the power of artificial intelligence and computer vision."