By Jay Fidell
ThinkTech is pleased to present the following article by guest blogger Nicole Hori, of Honolulu, who holds an M.S. in Biomedical Engineering:
Cell phones are everywhere, and with their built in connectivity and ability to capture images or process data, they can take new forms with only minor modifications. If your cell phone has a camera, it can be used to read barcodes or find the perfect paint color. Lenses are available to assist in taking wide-angle and macro images, and it’s possible to take the lens off entirely for bacterial cell counts.
Speaking of medicine, cell phones also have potential for community health applications, helping people self-diagnose, transmit images for analysis, and receive health advice. Adaptations may soon make it possible to use cell phones for ultrasound, as tactile listening aids (to augment lip reading), to watch for skin cancer or conduct blood cell counts, for glucose testing, to record information on GERD, to monitor patients’ breath (and see if they’re taking their meds), to monitor recovery after a heart attack (a mini ECG is connected via Bluetooth) or breathing during exercise, and to combat pharmaceutical fakes in Africa.
The latest medical device to be built around a cell phone hit the news big this week after being published in PLoS ONE. Starting with a Nokia 3.2 megapixel cell phone, Berkeley researchers added a 60x objective and 20x eyepiece to create a cell phone microscope (CellScope) with 1.2um resolution (limited by the cell phone sensor, not the optics). The resulting assembly won’t fit in your pocket anymore, but it should be durable enough to take microscopy to patients’ homes even in developing countries.
The researchers were able to obtain images of blood samples that could potentially be used to diagnose diseases such as malaria and sickle cell anemia. The sickle cell anemia samples didn’t even need staining, so this could be an easy way to screen newborns. There is still room to improve the usability of the malaria images by changing the lenses, but they’ve done enough to show that it will work.
In addition to brightfield images, the researchers turned the camera to night mode and were able to use fluorescent illumination to detect tuberculosis positive sputum smears. Resolution doesn’t need to be as high when fluorescence is used, so it’s possible to have a larger field of view and thus get results more quickly. A major drawback is that applying a fluorescent stain isn’t practical in the field; perhaps this will instead be used in labs that can’t afford ordinary fluorescent microscopes.