Wednesday, 22 Jul, 2009 Science

Latest Invention: Cell Phone with Portable Microscope for Spotting and Tracking Diseases


A team of scientists from the United States developed a portable microscope that is connected to a camera phone. Their latest invention thus can be used to diagnose dangerous diseases in blood and sputum samples, the latter are obtained by coughing deeply, which allows expelling the substance from the lungs into a sterile cup.

It is worth mentioning that light microscopy is a very important tool that can be used to diagnose malaria, tuberculosis and other dangerous diseases. The digital images of cell samples, taken by camera-equipped lab microscopes can be transmitted via Internet to specialists at different health centers for additional studies.

Together with his colleagues from the University of California in San Francisco, Daniel Fletcher at the University of California in Berkeley, though about exploiting the already existing technologies, widely used by people in everyday lives, such as cell phones, for medical reasons.

In this image you can see malaria-infected blood. According to one of the latest UN reports, about 60 percent of people around the globe use cell phones. The team realized that cell phone networks represent an inexpensive and fast way to convey medical information wirelessly. For their latest invention scientists used off-the-shelf parts to create an inexpensive and portable microscope attachment which connects to a Nokia N73 phone camera.

Using microscope, researchers can identify objects that are only 1.2 micrometers across. Red blood cells are usually from 6 to 8 micrometers across. In order to take clear picture of medical sample natural light is quite enough. Still, scientists decided to add a battery-powered LED lamp and several filters so their gadget could also work as a fluorescent microscope, reports New Scientist.

Researchers tested their latest invention against several widespread diseases and conditions. They found the results promising, saying that pictures of malaria-infected blood were good enough to be able to diagnose the disease. Besides, the system could also help diagnose sickle-cell anaemia from blood samples, thus researchers will be able to spot the presence of tuberculosis.

"Cell counting is the main thing we have done. Additional things could include annotating an image to point out a problem or a question to be answered by a doctor at a central hospital," says Fletcher. Using the device combined with detailed information about the patient and location, could help track the spread of dangerous diseases.

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