Researchers pair microscope with cell
Calif. – Biomedical engineers at the University of California, Berkeley,
have developed a prototype camera-phone mounted with a microscope to
magnify and photograph blood or saliva samples for testing.
Called CellScope, the device will allow disease screening and diagnosis
in the field, where specialized clinical microscopy laboratories aren’t
available. That includes underdeveloped countries or isolated or rural
locations in the developed world.
“The same regions of the world that lack access to adequate health
facilities are, paradoxically, well-served by mobile phone networks,”
said Dan Fletcher, an associate professor of bioengineering and head of
the team developing the CellScope. “We can take advantage of these
mobile networks to bring low-cost, easy-to-use lab equipment out to more
David Breslauer, a graduate student on the team who specializes in
developing small medical devices, said there is increasing interest in
expanding mobile technology for medicine, whether for monitoring a
person’s heartbeat or checking a diabetic’s blood glucose levels.
“And for many diseases, simply looking through a microscope is still the
standard,” Breslauer said Tuesday from Berkeley, Calif. “It’s not like a
pregnancy test, where it says yes or no. You look through a microscope,
a trained professional sits there and counts whatever they’re looking
for and reports it.”
Cellphone cameras have already been used to snap shots of magnified
blood samples, for instance, by holding the device up to the eyepiece of
a microscope, he said.
“But what we wanted to do was actually design a microscope around the
cellphone, make a portable system that could then be used to do
clinical-level diagnostics that require light microscopy in a portable
In testing of samples of infected blood and saliva, the researchers were
able to use CellScope to capture pictures of the parasite that causes
malaria as well as fluorescent-tagged images of the skinny rod-like
bacteria that leads to tuberculosis.
“The images can either be analyzed on site or wirelessly transmitted to
clinical centres for remote diagnosis,” said Breslauer, co-lead author
of a report on the device recently published by the journal PLoS One.
“The system could be used to help provide early warning of outbreaks by
shortening the time needed to screen, diagnose and treat infectious
diseases.” Breslauer said the group is working on a more robust version
of CellScope – the current prototype is quite fragile and would likely
break if dropped – that can be taken out in the field for testing in
countries like Honduras, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
The idea would eventually be to equip travelling health providers with
the devices, so that people living long distances from hospitals or
clinics could be tested for diseases without having to leave home. They
could also be used for post-treatment follow-up.
“If you can give someone this system, then they can go from house to
house,” he said. “And because the cellphone is a computer essentially,
they can input patient data, they can geotag their location with a GPS
(global positioning system), and so you shift where the healthcare’s
In developed countries like the United States and Canada, the microscope
camera could be used by a cancer patient having chemotherapy, for
example, to take regular snaps of their blood. The captured images could
be sent by home computer to a physician, who could remotely monitor the
patient’s white blood-cell count.
Breslauer said the Berkeley team also has been approached by agriculture
experts about equipping farmers with CellScope, so they can download
magnified images of diseased samples from crops or animal herds for
“It’s hard to say when it will become available, but we are within a
couple months of doing very thorough field tests with a much more
compact, developed system,” he said.
Posted July 30/09.