Saturday, November 7, 2009

Far From a Lab? Turn a Cellphone Into a Microscope

NYTimes / November 7 2009 / ANNE EISENBERG

MICROSCOPES are invaluable tools to identify blood and other cells when screening for diseases like anemia, tuberculosis and malaria. But they are also bulky and expensive.

Now an engineer, using software that he developed and about $10 worth of off-the-shelf hardware, has adapted cellphones to substitute for microscopes.


The adapted phones may be used for screening in places far from hospitals, technicians or diagnostic laboratories, Dr. Ozcan said.

In one prototype, a slide holding a finger prick of blood can be inserted over the phone’s camera sensor. The sensor detects the slide’s contents and sends the information wirelessly to a hospital or regional health center. [snip] 


“This is an inexpensive way to eliminate a microscope and sample biological images with a basic cellphone camera instead,” he said. “If you are in a place where getting to a microscope or medical facility is not straightforward, this is a really smart solution.”

Neven Karlovac, the chief executive of Microskia in Los Angeles, said that some of the company’s products would be adaptations of regular cellphones. For phones without cameras, or phones too compact to modify, the company has different designs, including a simple box with a sensing chip that can be plugged into a cellphone or laptop with a USB cord, he said.


For this electronic system of magnification, inexpensive light-emitting diodes added to the basic cellphone shine their light on a sample slide placed over the phone’s camera chip. Some of the light waves hit the cells suspended in the sample, scattering off the cells and interfering with the other light waves.


Dr. Ozcan’s system may someday lead to a rapid way to process blood and other samples, said Bahram Jalali, an applied physicist and professor of electrical engineering at U.C.L.A. “It is potentially much faster than a microscope,” he said. “You don’t have to scan mechanically” as people must with a microscope with its small field of view.


The cellphone systems may be particularly helpful in screening for malaria, said Yvonne Bryson, a professor and chief of the pediatric infectious diseases division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A. She has collaborated with Dr. Ozcan on several grants. “Right now you need a microscope, and you need trained people,” Dr. Bryson said. “But this device would allow you to work without either in a remote area.”

M. Fatih Yanik, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, “This makes it possible for ordinary people to gather medical information in the field just byusing a cellphone adapted with cheap parts.”



1 comment:

  1. this sounds like a great idea.
    You may also want to have a look at something that we have developed called Capturatalk which enables people to use their phone to help them with their dyslexia. It uses optical character recognition via the camera on the phone and text-to-speech to read out information that they have captured they can also then get an explanation read to them from the Oxford English dictionary. More details can be found at


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