My short bio: founder of Entrepreneur, Inventor, Founder of Worked for Intellectual Ventures Invention Development Fund in their startups team. Built & sold businesses over the last 15 yrs. Resident Entrepreneur at (University of Sydney)

My engineer and I built as a skunk works project without my employer knowing and then they kindly let me spin it out and I open sourced it

My Proof: Demo of the Malaria prototype here (note my name and contact on bottom of site)

tweet announcing AMA here and

Comments: 51 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

catchbobbie5 karma

Is it Fuck You ???

mikenicholls882 karma

Maybe :)

woyteck5 karma

Why not DDT? It eradicated malaria in eastern Europe.

mikenicholls884 karma

Again if you kill a key part of the ecosystem who knows what else happens

moosedynomite5 karma

Is malaria something to be concerned about in America?

mikenicholls889 karma

It was eliminated in US in the early 50s but from time to time people bring it back in and then local Mosquitos transmit it to others and they have a small outbreak, about 2000 cases a year get reported in USA, mostly from recent visitors to areas where it is common

Agrianian3 karma

We have the capability now to totally eliminate certain species of mosquito. Do you agree with this?

mikenicholls883 karma

Not really, the law of unexpected consequences is strong, so much depends on insects being in the foodchain, have to think this sounds like a bad idea


If you're still answering questions, what are your thoughts on gene- editing techniques like CRISPR in modifying mosquitoes to no longer carry malaria?

mikenicholls883 karma

There are two ways to get CRISPR into the cells (that Im aware of) using a virus to carry the therapeutic into a cell and also using a mechanical means that forces therapeutic payload into a cell and then you have to inject it into the target.

This is not my area of expertise but you have to think the mechanical method isnt going to scale so well for billions of Mosquitos.

So without screwing up the world you have to work out create a virus that is contagious (to Mosquitos only) without killing everything else, what could go wrong :)

mikenicholls882 karma

Great idea, not sure what the Mosquitos think, the thing about the Mosquito is that it is the unwitting carrier of Malaria.

The pathogen is actually invading its body when it bites a infected human, it grows in the gut of the Mosquito and propagates and then is spread when it gets to a certain age when the Mosquito bites someone.

Not sure its going to be that easy to make the mosquito's body reject the pathogen but who knows.

My concern about this is that when you change a key part of the ecosystem (Mosquitoes and larvae get eaten other inserts, fish etc) its pretty easy to screw up, but brighter people than me will make that decision


We already have these modified mosquitoes, the thing is nobody knows what to do.

mikenicholls881 karma

Again this is not my area of expertise, Im a tech entrepreneur who decided it might be a bit of fun to solve a potentially impactful problem

funbaggy2 karma

Is it true that malaria has killed more people than anything else in human history?

mikenicholls884 karma

Not sure, have to think the Spanish Flu would give it a good run for its money but Im guessing Malaria has been at it longer, up until a few years ago it was killing 750,000 people a year so I would imagine the death toll is pretty high

jackson239162 karma

could this be used to research zika too?

mikenicholls887 karma

Not a Zika expert but I don't believe this would be a good solution for Zika.

Zika is a virus, Malaria is a pathogen they are orders of magnitude difference in size. You can see Malaria in blood cells in about 400-500x magnification which is possible on even very basic microscopes.

Zika is about 40nm and I believe it can not be seen on even the strongest light microscope. Most likely you could see the damage it causes to the cells but by the time you see this its probably way too late in the process given how fast it acts.

This prototype could however be used for just about any blood condition where microscopy is the standard method of diagnosis, we would just need to train the rules to detect the specific disease/condition.

Henki21 karma

Do you consider this AMA a failure?

mikenicholls885 karma

So far :)

Sibma1 karma

Lol. No worries. Reddit is stupid most of the times.

Would you be interested in research collaboration? I have a friend who is doing a PhD in malaria something (vaccination I guess) and might be interested in this.

mikenicholls881 karma

Yes absolutely, it needs a community around it, appreciate if you could connect us thanks

donvito391 karma

I'm studying CS. This project has really fascinated me and I am going to be spending a whole lot of time looking into your work. I will contact you later regarding the 'Help Us' portion of your website. Have you used any image processing algorithms that were developed recently?

mikenicholls881 karma

Thanks very much, really appreciate your support, most of this work is based on OpenCV and is about 18 months old (there were many disruptions in my life that delayed me getting it out into the world).

Its all rules based at the moment but ideally we would move to unsupervised learning across a very large number of blood images with multiple different conditions.

Look forward to your involvement Thanks

FanOfGoodMovies1 karma

This is to be used in the field by tropical medicine doctors to speed a malaria diagnosis?
Could the slide staining be automated and could the diagnosis be assisted by a more powerful computer, by using a smartphone to take a picture of the screen and relaying that image to a cognitive computer like IBM Watson/Health?

mikenicholls881 karma

Yes thats our hypothesis, primarily for GP doctors to use in the field to provide early confirmation and also to aggregate information about transmission and hotspots for early containment.

Yes slide staining could be automated, but we had not planned for this yet. A machine/robot similar to could be implemented in the machine and is a good long term option but we have not started on this as yet but its probably an easy win.

Re: Smartphones and cloud computing. This method was considered (and originally inspired this project) however the problem we saw with the Smartphone is that we think its really tough to develop this into a medical grade method of capture especially in developing nations.

The trouble with using a phone is that there are so many different types of hardware and versions of software and quality of lens/sensor its impossible to know for sure if you can get consistency required to be medical grade. Actually its almost certain this would not conform with most countries regulatory processes.

Also a smart phone on its own does not have the magnification required to see malaria in a slide, hence you would need to build some form of platform and objective lens and have some form of adjusting method to make it work with various phones, there are so many variables I get a headache thinking about it.

It would also need an app as we need to connect it to a cloud service (it is medical data and will need to be appropriately secured).

The actual processing load is not a big deal, it could easily be run on a Raspberry Pi.

The diagnosis could be improved by two methods, we get some medical teams to help us with classifying the images and the features and we write more rules (this is relatively easy) or we get a machine learning expert to build us an unsupervised learning model and we find 1000000s of blood images (including malaria and all other diseases that can be diagnosed with Microscope) and it classifies/clusters the different things it finds (this is not trivial).

EvanTabler1 karma

Sorry I'm late.... But what made you want to make this? How long did it take?

mikenicholls887 karma

Im still here :)

My engineer and I were building a wearable device to measure hydration of your body and were waiting on some hardware prototypes to be built, I saw a story about a young teenager who had won a YC hackathon using a mobile phone and a ball lens that aimed to diagnose Malaria.

I thought this was a pretty interesting idea but there were a lot of problems with the approach and the images he showed were pretty low quality (the ball lens not ideal for this) and it didn't seem to me there was a way to make this to a medical standard using a smart phone and having the software on the phone, too many variables that could not be controlled for this to become a medical device that would be used in a regulated environment. We felt it could be achieved if we could control the device (hence the design of the accompanying computer vision microscope).

So in our spare time while waiting for a new prototype circuit board to come back from Shenzhen we prototyped the computer vision algo.

My personal motivation was probably pretty selfish, I was just about to hit 50 and felt I had not made the impact I wanted to make on the world yet and was motivated to work on projects that were highly impactful rather than just for personal profit, I had pretty good income for a good period of time and felt it was time to do something that might change the world. It was a problem that needed to be solved and the only work I could find on it was a few academic experiments.

Also the company I worked for had a Lab that did a lot of work for Gates foundation so it was ingrained in the company culture although this project was not officially approved in the company and was not really supported until recently when they allowed me to spin it out as part of a deal and then open source it.

It probably took the two of us about 8 weeks in the first phase, I had no background in Malaria so I basically read everything I could find on the topic and gathered about 1000 images which were designated as Malarial using Google image search and a few scraping tools.

To be frank its at the stage where it needs some medical oversight, I think we have done pretty well for a bunch of non medicos techos but it needs some help now if it going to be successful.

Vloxxity3 karma

"My personal motivation was probably pretty selfish"

yeah you selfish asshat how could you do something that might help millions of people for free to boost your ego!

Think about our poor capitalism.

mikenicholls886 karma

yep, the irony isnt lost on me

Victor_Zsasz1 karma

Does it work, and if so, how well?

mikenicholls883 karma

Yes it works, dont have exact % success rate, but have a look at the demo, it picks up all the classical Malarial signs, we know it also picks up things we dont want it to pick up like cell artefacts and also white blood cells (basicaly items that stain in the process).

It still needs some help from some real Malaria experts which Im hoping will be persuaded to come help by the start we have made

abeiks1 karma

As someone who lived in an area where almost everyone had had malaria a few times, many people spoke about developing some kind of "resistance" to the disease, that they could deal with the symptoms similar to having the flu. When you see the statistics however, malaria seems like a much bigger deal. To what extent would you say that the disease is largely a result of poor education and poor healthcare, rather than the disease being more lethal that the flu?

mikenicholls882 karma

Im not an expert on the transmission and global aspects.

I really dont know if its poor education or healthcare, certainly the further you get away from major centres the longer it takes to diagnose the disease which means the sufferers have longer time to pass it on to others.

I haven't had to live with Malaria but during summer we have a lot of Mosquitos and they are bloody hard to keep out of the house.

I think most people know Mosquitos cause the problem but trying to keep them away is physically very difficult. I think some countries and some species are possibly worse than others (there are 5 Malaria species that affect humans), nets treated with insecticide apparently are very effective but only recently widely available

the_wulk1 karma

I am G6PD positive. Is it true that I am immune to malaria?

mikenicholls881 karma

no idea, sorry, Im a tech guy not a doctor but certainly it seems its a thing

[deleted]1 karma

Hi Mike,

Awesome product. What's the next step? I hope you continue to pursue this. Do you have a plan to expand this to other blood-borne pathogens such as trichonosis or typhoid?

Also, how will this device be functionally better than a 400x microscope and a lab tech? It will still require training, right?

mikenicholls882 karma

Thanks much appreciated, Im funding a few part time freelancers out of our company to help develop it, the company I worked for previously made a bunch of us redundant about 5 months ago and let me spin out this project plus another.

Some freelancers have been very helpful basically giving their services away for free.

I really need some help driving this tbh, I am spread too thin so Im trying to get some like minded people to help out, ideally we need a bunch of 4th year tropical medicine Doctors to adopt the project, coders I can probably get, medical people less easy for me. Im working part time out of the Incubator at University of Sydney so might see if I can get help from some of their research groups.

I have also put a Gates foundation grant application in this week.

Its probably not any better than a highly skilled lab tech, however it will be more consistent and much faster and has potential to be better than the average lab tech and has the ability to go non stop 24x7 and if we got the field microscopes into production could increase the test capacity available dramatically and also move it further into the field and hopefully reduce time to diagnosis.

Training will still be required for staining the slides however this is well known and has the potential to be automated as well.

Not sure about the other diseases but its open source so you guys can do what you want with it.

todayIact1 karma

How did America get rid of malaria?

mikenicholls882 karma

I think there are differing opinions