How To Help Malaria Sufferers Without Using Patents: Crowdsourcing Diagnosis

from the working-together dept

A little while back we wrote about Nathan Myhrvold's sniffy comment that if you're not doing anything to help people suffering from malaria, you have no right to criticize his patent troll operation, Intellectual Ventures. As we also noted, this argument is rather undermined by the fact that his research involves such deeply impractical solutions as "photonic fences" and using magnets to make mosquitoes explode.

If lives are to be saved here and now, and not in some patent-encumbered fantasy world tomorrow, what we need is a rather different approach that works with resources that are available and cheap today. Perhaps a crowdsourced solution like this:

Background: There are 600,000 new malaria cases daily worldwide. The gold standard for estimating the parasite burden and the corresponding severity of the disease consists in manually counting the number of parasites in blood smears through a microscope, a process that can take more than 20 minutes of an expert microscopist's time.

Objective: This research tests the feasibility of a crowdsourced approach to malaria image analysis. In particular, we investigated whether anonymous volunteers with no prior experience would be able to count malaria parasites in digitized images of thick blood smears by playing a Web-based game.
Digitized blood sample images were placed on a Web site, and then people were invited to count the parasites in each. A special algorithm was used to combine the analyses from several visitors to produce a better collective detection rate. It seems to work:
Results: Over 1 month, anonymous players from 95 countries played more than 12,000 games and generated a database of more than 270,000 clicks on the test images. Results revealed that combining 22 games from nonexpert players achieved a parasite counting accuracy higher than 99%. This performance could be obtained also by combining 13 games from players trained for 1 minute.
That's pretty impressive. And unlike bonkers ideas such as "photonic fences", this crowdsourced approach requires little beyond bandwidth for distributing images and enough people participating. Putting the two together potentially allows huge numbers of blood samples to be checked for the presence of malaria infection with high accuracy once the system has been refined to include additional factors like parasite species and growth stages. That makes this approach scalable -- crucially important when there are over half a million new cases of malaria each year. The same can hardly said about using magnets to make mosquitoes explode.

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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 12:44am

    Think about the poor microscopist you are putting out of work with this idea!

    /s

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 4:37am

    Galaxy Zoo

    This sounds very similar to the Galaxy Zoo and related initiatives: http://www.galaxyzoo.org/

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 4:45am

    This sounds like felony interference with a business model.

     

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  4.  
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    snidely (profile), Dec 12th, 2012 @ 4:49am

    Can't a computer do this?

    I'm really surprised that you can't train a computer to recognize the parasite images. I would think that a computer that does OCR could easily learn to recognize the variations in the parasite images.

    P.S. I just patented "method and process for identifying malaria parasites on a computer."

     

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  5.  
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    vegetaman (profile), Dec 12th, 2012 @ 4:51am

    "..."photonic fences" and using magnets to make mosquitoes explode."

    You sure they're not trying to make a low budget syfy movie, lol?

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 5:34am

    Re: Can't a computer do this?

    train a computer - really?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 5:42am

    Numbers Discrepancy

    There are 600,000 new malaria cases daily worldwide.

    [...]there are over half a million new cases of malaria each year.

    Which one is accurate?

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 6:43am

    Re: Can't a computer do this?

    OCR wouldn't given you 99% accuracy. Also it's blood smears, the contrast is even lower than black text on white background.

    Computers are a long way away from figuring out images with 99% accuracy and they are certainly a long way away from 'training' that you describe.

     

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  9.  
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    Atkray (profile), Dec 12th, 2012 @ 7:53am

    That tripped me up too.

    A quick check at WHO reveals they claim in 2011 there were 216 million cases. 600,000 * 365 = 219 million.

    I'm guessing the first number is about as accurate as these numbers get.

    The half million probably refers to the number of deaths each year.

    Makes banning Zen magnets look pretty stupid.

     

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  10.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Dec 12th, 2012 @ 8:07am

    Re: Numbers Discrepancy

    Both.

    500,000 = half a million

    600,000 > 500,000

    I'd like to thank my second grade teacher, Mrs. Schaefer for the valuable skills that allowed me to perform this difficult mathematical comparison.

     

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  11.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Dec 12th, 2012 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re: Numbers Discrepancy

    Actually AC has a point. The numbers are similar but the time frames are different. One says "daily" and the other says "each year".

    These stats from WHO claim over 200 million cases worldwide in 2010 with an estimated 655,000 deaths.

    http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/malaria/en/index.html

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 9:58am

    Instead of Patents

    Where is the Crowdsource funding or Prize Money model for a solution (inoculation or cure) for something that is so widespread?

    Those calling for their taxes to be raised (Warren Buffet, George Soros and their ilk: http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterjreilly/2012/12/11/warren-buffett-and-george-soros-want-higher-esta te-tax-than-obama-proposes/) should instead create a Billionaire Prize Club for non-patented cures to malaria, HIV, etc.

    If Buffett is so insistent that he has too much money (he is stealing Oregon state taxes via PGE: http://www.tax.com/taxcom/taxblog.nsf/permalink/uben-8ek28b?opendocument), he should at least be more philanthropic with his ill gotten gains. What a douche…

     

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  13.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Dec 12th, 2012 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Numbers Discrepancy

    I would guess that the 600,000 new cases a day would the accurate one.

    Based on the 2010 number and basic math that would be roughly 550,000 cases a day in 2010.

    Also, the paper cited in Glyn's article references a lot of sources from 2012, so it appears they are using more recent numbers.

     

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  14.  
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    ldne, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 11:16am

    Re: Can't a computer do this?

    Not necessarily, the reason for the use of captcha on many websites is because humans are still far better at that type of task than a computer. Also, think of the development and implementation costs, simple web games are cheap and easy to make, bandwidth is also cheap, and you have free labor that is supplying most of the hardware, their own PC.

     

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  15.  
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    orbitalinsertion (profile), Dec 12th, 2012 @ 1:55pm

    Re:

    Nathan Myhrvold thinks he's Star Trek.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 7:11pm

    Re: Instead of Patents

    You haven't made any progress in damaging his reputation, yet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2012 @ 1:27am

    Remember, kids. If you can't pay for medicine or medicine patents, you don't deserve to live.

    Don't be an entitled life pirate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2012 @ 5:39am

    Re: Instead of Patents

    "What a douche…"
    - You only need look in a mirror, there will a huge one.


    "If Buffett is so insistent that he has too much money"
    - I don't recall him ever saying that


    "he should at least be more philanthropic"
    - Perhaps you should research a topic prior to commenting

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2012 @ 5:43am

    Re:

    Look Johnny, if you can not afford your life saving vaccination maybe you should borrow money if you have to from your parents

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2012 @ 9:16am

    Re: Re: Instead of Patents

    Set up a Prize Foundation to help the people prevent/cure diseases.

    What a FU defending a Billionaire who owes back taxes…search Buffett+taxes
    “Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Owes Taxes Going Back To 2002”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/29/warren-buffett-taxes-berkshire-hathaway_n_941099.htm l
    “US Government Countersues Warren Buffett Company Over Unpaid Taxes”
    http://michellemalkin.com/2012/03/10/us-government-buffett/

    To avoid the raised taxes next year:
    “Berkshire Hathaway buys $1.2 billion of its own shares at a price higher than what CEO Warren Buffett has said he'd pay.”
    http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2012/12/12/berkshire-buffett-buyback/

    Why has Buffett setup 90%+ of his estate to go to charity and not the govt?
    He wants to prevent the Govt from taking what is his.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 14th, 2012 @ 7:54am

    Re: Re: Numbers Discrepancy

    Too bad she didn't do as well with the whole reading thing...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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