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.
“We convert cellphones into devices that diagnose diseases,” said Aydogan Ozcan, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and member of the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, who created the devices. He has formed a company, Microskia, to commercialize the technology.
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. For instance, the phones can detect the asymmetric shape of diseased blood cells or other abnormal cells, or note an increase of white blood cells, a sign of infection, he said.
Dr. Ozcan’s devices provide a simple solution to a complex problem, said Ahmet Yildiz, an assistant professor of physics and molecular cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
“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.