Future Tense: Lensless Cell Phone Microscope

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Technology: Lensless cell phone microscope

Purpose: An inexpensive solution to quickly screen or diagnose diseases like malaria, E. coli, and tuberculosis in remote regions

Developer: Aydogan Ozcan, PhD, an electrical engineering professor at UCLA

Manufacturer: Microskia in Los Angeles

How it works: The technology known as LUCAS, a lensless ultra-wide-field cell monitoring array platform based on shadow imaging, can convert almost any cell phone camera into a device that can diagnose disease. LUCAS uses light-emitting diodes rather than lenses to illuminate a blood, saliva, or fluid sample placed in front of the camera's standard lens. Some of the light waves hit the cells in the sample, interfering with the other light waves to create a hologram. The camera records that interference pattern as a series of pixels, which are then reconstructed into images you would see with a microscope. The data can be analyzed locally or electronically transferred to a hospital using the cell phone.

Potential improvement: The quality of the images produced by LUCAS are not as good as those generated from a traditional microscope; they are grainy and pixilated. But LUCAS offers an affordable and portable means to diagnose and research in the field. It can almost instantaneously identify and count microparticles, which can be challenging and time-consuming to do in settings with limited resources.

What's next: Cell phone and Webcam prototypes have already been created, so now Ozcan is constructing a handheld device that incorporates the LUCAS imaging system.

Carrie Vaughan

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