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May 23, 2008

BehindTheMedspeak: Medical Imaging With a Cellphone — Episode 2: Mobile Microscope

Episode 1 six days ago introduced the cellphone as a diagnostic imaging tool.

Today we have a look at using it as a microscope, enabling remote diagnosis and monitoring of many illnesses without geographic limits.

Here's a article from the May 17, 2008 Economist about this very promising technology.

    Doctor on call: Mobile-phone microscopes

    Simple accessories could turn mobile phones into useful medical devices

    Robi Maamari stares intently at the screen of his mobile phone. The student is not squinting to tap out yet another daft text message, but looking carefully for the faint blue dots that are the tell-tale diagnostic signature of malaria.

    Mr Maamari is a member of a research team led by Dan Fletcher, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, which has developed a cheap attachment to turn the digital camera on many of today's mobile phones into a microscope. Called a CellScope, it can show individual white and red blood cells, which means that with the correct stain it can be used to identify the parasite that causes malaria. Moreover, by transmitting an image directly over the mobile network, the CellScope could greatly help with the remote diagnosis and monitoring of many illnesses.

    The project, which began as a challenge by Dr Fletcher to his undergraduate students to turn their mobile phones into microscopes, gained momentum when they came up with some practical designs. Although the first prototype covered a tabletop, the latest uses commercially available lenses fitted inside a tube that snaps directly onto the phone. One end has a clip for holding a sample slide, and different levels of magnification are possible. The team thinks the attachments, if mass-produced, could be made smaller and tougher, and sell for less than $100.

    The diagnosis of malaria was the first test because it demands a high-quality image. In recent weeks the team has successfully identified its first samples. Eventually CellScope promises to extend the clinician's range. Someone with a small amount of training would be able to take and stain blood samples, and then capture and transmit images to an expert who could carry out the diagnosis.

    The images also help create digital records, which would make it easier to monitor and verify the success of a drug trial or the introduction of mosquito nets in a remote area, for instance.

    Not surprisingly, interest in the project is growing. Microsoft has donated some camera phones equipped with satellite-navigation devices and Nokia has been in touch. Even the research arm of America's defence department has expressed an interest. Once a final prototype is ready, it may be tested by doctors in the Philippines and Colombia.

    Applications need not be confined to the developing world. Many cancer patients have to travel to a hospital each week for simple cell counts to be carried out. Dr Fletcher hopes the CellScope may enable them to do this from home. Also, farmers who suffer crop blight could send images from plant samples for remote diagnosis by agricultural experts. The Berkeley team is working on this idea with the University of Florida, which runs a remote diagnostics programme for farmers.



Above, the CellScope in use.

Here's a link to a March 19, 2008 Technology Review article about the device.

May 23, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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