Google Invests US$1.5M In Makerere University’s Automated Mobile Microscopic Diagnosis of Malaria, Cancer & Tuberculosis

Google Invests US$1.5M In Makerere University’s Automated Mobile Microscopic Diagnosis of Malaria, Cancer & Tuberculosis

By Spy Uganda

Makerere University under its Artificial Intelligence Lab has received a grant funding worth US$1,500,000 from Google to support its Ocular project that is undertaking research on usage of Artificial Intelligence to enhance the diagnosis process of Malaria, Tuberculosis and Cervical Cancer in Uganda.

This grant is in addition to what Makerere University received from Google’s philanthropic arm in 2019 for development of AirQo, an air monitoring project that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and low-cost technologies to generate and quantify data on air pollution in the designated areas in Uganda.

The Ocular Project was officially launched by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance (MoICT & NG), Dr. Aminah Zawedde. The research is being undertaken by Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS) in collaboration with the Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH).

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According the Project Principal Investigator Dr. Rose Nakasi, The Ocular Project aims at building a standardized point-of-care mobile microscopy for disease diagnosis with a specificity of up to 99%. The solution’s current focus is on malaria, tuberculosis and cervical cancer in Uganda.

Speaking at the launch, Dr. Rose Nakasi noted that the project team benched on the rampant challenges faced by the laboratory experts while undertaking diagnosis procedures.

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“In our interaction with some experts from the health sector, we found out that it was indeed straining for health centres in Uganda to manage the escalating number of patients that seek for laboratory screening tests. In addition, the team noted that the country is also blessed with a few trained laboratory technicians to support the diagnosis process using the microscope,” she said.

“We therefore took advantage of the existing technologies such as the smartphone and the availability of at least a microscope in every health centre across the country to develop a 3D printable adaptor that was attached to an eye piece of the microscope. The 3D adapter was also slotted in the smartphone to capture images. With the capabilities of Artificial intelligence through computer vision, images can be processed and this directs the experts where the pathogens are,” she added.

According to Dr. Nakasi, this process shortens the diagnosis process making it more accurate, quicker and easier to diagnose health conditions and potentially reducing screening time by over 80%. With the new funding support from Google therefore, Dr. Nakasi said that the project will seamlessly expand to other conditions such sickle cell anaemia, intestinal parasites and be scaled up in different pilot hospitals in Uganda.

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In her remarks, Dr. Aminah Zawedde expressed gladness to be back at Makerere University to launch the second phase of the Google grant funding since 2019.

“This makes me appreciate the goodness of God and the fact that Makerere University is doing amazing things. It is hard to tell how good home is until you leave and then make a return,” she said.

Dr. Zawedde, commended Makerere University for the grounds and foundation it has given to different generations that have stood tall to support the development process of this country in different capacities. “Everyone would like to support research that is impactful and speaking to our problems as the community. Given the zeal that Rose Nakasi had during her studies, there is need to celebrate her,” she said.

According to Dr. Aminah Zawedde, in August 2023, MoICT & NG launched the National Digital Transformational Road Map, a collaborative effort from all partners in Uganda that guides the country on what to focus on in the next five years when creating an enabling environment geared towards digital transformation. The Road Map is hinged on the Uganda Vision 2040 of transforming Uganda into a modern and prosperous country.

She also mentioned that  the  National Digital Transformation Roadmap premises on five pillars including; Digital Infrastructure and Connectivity, Cybersecurity, Data Protection and Privacy, Digital Skilling, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“The Ocular we are launching toady is an innovation and with support, we can scale it up into a commercial product that can be used not only in Uganda but across the continent,” Dr. Zawedde said.

She thanked Dr. Rose Nakasi and the team for having been able to undertake an outstanding research that has been internationally recognized as worthy of a additional global funding from Google. She called upon other researchers to take their research and publication seriously and urged the University Management and Government of Uganda to continue providing support and an enabling environment for researchers to thrive.

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