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:
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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
  • http://clubneko.net robot makes music

    That’s still plenty cheaper than the 30 to 50 thousand you’ll pay for a lab fluorescence microscope.

  • kjackson

    This is so interesting! I recently heard about a program called iCons in Medicine (www.iconsinmed.org) that’s working to connect doctors in rural and underserved areas with specialty physicians to improve the quality of care provided in those areas. This would be a great addition to that service!

  • Kin

    Soo…All the technology is still in the addon…It’s really not so special in that sense. It’s just employing the use of an extremely cheap camera CCD and the processing capabilities aswell. Apparently, you buy the phone as well, as wheres the saving?

  • http://www.cellphonetohomephone.com/ Mary

    Hello, just stopped by doing some research for a cell phone to home phone blog post. Amazing the amount of information on the web. Wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but nice site. Take care.


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