The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced the names of some Grand Challenges Explorations Round 18 grant winners. Researchers from all over the world received $100,000 to develop ideas that can change the world. Out of four categories, one such idea is the Design New Solutions to Data Integration for Malaria Elimination. Among the recipients for this category is Dr. Helder Nakaya and his malaria GPS mapping idea.

Dr. Nakaya holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and is an expert in systems vaccinology. His lab uses computational systems biology to study the root of infectious diseases. Additionally, he works as both an assistant professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Pharmaceutical Science and as an adjunct professor at the Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology.

His idea is to extract the location history file on mobile phones to determine the geographic location of infection along with if the area is a breeding site for malaria. While it’s standard for doctors to ask patients to retrace their steps, the mosquito bite could’ve occurred at any point between 10-15 days prior to the symptoms appearing.

This information can easily slip the mind of anyone, especially for someone enduring the effects of malaria. However, the perfect recall of mobile devices proves extremely useful in fixing this human issue.

Security is a concern, but those fears are easily allayed. The file necessary for this project only tracks the phone’s physical location. Photos, texts, call logs, contacts and all other sensitive information is stored separately and will not be examined. Dr. Nakaya and his team assure patients that submitting the file is up to them and anonymous.

If the malaria GPS mapping project goes well, Dr. Nakaya and his team of scientists could receive up to $1 million dollars in additional funding. Other researchers hope to broaden the program to detect breeding grounds for other infectious diseases and viruses (such as Zika, chikungunya and dengue).

Another possible scenario is that Dr. Nakaya develops an app that updates in real time. It could help citizens navigate around hotspots and let city halls know where to disperse public agents to deal with the breeding grounds. In other words, this idea could (again) revolutionize the healthcare industry.

Jada Haynes

Photo: Flickr