Microscope-Cell Phone Combo Could Spot Disease in Developing World

By Aline Reynolds | July 22, 2009 2:27 pm

CellScopeDeveloping nations may be where infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis flourish, but ironically, these regions often have the fewest resources for equipment to diagnose the maladies.

A new fluorescence microscope, however, could offer an affordable solution: One that attaches to an ordinary mobile phone. Once snapped on to any mobile phone that has a basic camera function, the microscope can illuminate pathogens, allowing the viewer to identify them and even send the image to a health care facility, according to an article published in the journal PLoS ONE.

To use the device, called the CellScope, fluorescent molecular “tags” are added to a blood sample, which attach themselves to a certain pathogen, such as tuberclosis-causing bacteria. The pathogens are then illuminated by microscope, which uses cheap commercial light-emitting diodes as the light source – in place of the high-power, gas-filled lamps used in laboratory versions of the device, and cheap optical filters to isolate the light coming from the fluorescent tags [BBC News]. The apparatus allows the viewer to “see” things as small as one-millionth of a meter.

Because the particles that users will be looking for, such as a certain bacteria, light up, successfully identifying the pathogen would require minimal training. “You don’t have to deal with a messy background,” Breslauer explained. “Only what you’re looking for lights up” [CBC]. The researchers estimate that the first CellScopes cost about $1,000 apiece to produce, but once a few thousand have been produced, the price could drop to a few hundred dollars–including the cell phone.

It might not take long for clinics and other health care centers to start using the technology, the researchers say. “Since we are developing a technology that makes the current and long-standing internationally accepted standards for disease screening in developing countries more portable, we anticipate that a relatively fast time to adoption by clinicians and health workers may be possible” [The Guardian], the authors wrote in the paper. And if the phones are outfitted with GPS and Internet capabilities, CellScope could even record and track the spread of disease.

Related Content:
Diagnostic Lab Made of Paper and Tape Could Lead to a 3-Cent HIV Test
80beats: Researchers Work Towards a Shirt That Can Take Pictures
80beats: Dime-Sized Microscope Could Be a Boon for Developing World Health

Image: Daniel Fletcher

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar