Affordable Microscope Plugs Into Cell Phones To Provide Medical Diagnostics

A new device provides inexpensive medical diagnostics on the go.

Researchers at UCLA have developed a small digital microscope that can plug into a cell phone and perform basic medical diagnostics. This inexpensive, lightweight microscope doesn’t use a lens, and generates blood counts and identifies disease cells from simple images sent through a USB cord to a cell phone. Software analyzes samples on the spot, enabling a patient to get on the right medication faster.

Technology Review reports on the working of this device.

The device has only two key hardware components: a light-emitting diode to illuminate the sample and an light-sensing chip. Slides smeared with samples are loaded into the microscope through a small drawer that sits between the LED and the light sensor. A USB port carries power and data between the scope and a cell phone.

Since the microscope has no lenses, it does not magnify the images. Yet it is able to gain resolution just under two micrometers, and makes images that are about as clear as those made by a conventional 40X microscope. This is made possible by image-processing software. As light from the LED passes through a given type of cell, the light bends or diffracts in a characteristic way depending on the cell’s size, shape, and refractive index. Data picked up by the light-sensing chip is carried to a cell phone for analysis.

The UCLA team is working on improving image quality for more in-depth analysis of cells. With the microscope costing only about $3 and even basic cell phones now having good processing power, researchers hope that their device will introduce better medical diagnostics to parts of the world where cell phones are prevalent but access to expensive clinical diagnostic equipment is not.

UCLA: The Ozcan Research Group

Technology Review: “$3 Microscope Plugs into Cell Phones”

image at top is a prototype of the latest model

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