The Birth of the Cell Phone Microscope

In a new project currently under way at the Blum Center for Developing Economies in Berkeley University, scientists are trying to convert the standard cellular phone camera into a clinical-quality microscope, with 5-50X magnification abilities. According to the researchers, cell-phone microscopy will enable visualization of patient samples that are critical for disease diagnosis. If the project is successful, images captured by health workers on a microscope-equipped cell phone could be annotated, organized, and transmitted to medical experts at major medical centers for analysis and recommendation.
The CellScope illumination system: A ring of low-cost, low-power, and high-brightness white LEDs. The LEDs are powered by a battery attached to the device, and are angled to fully illuminate a sample at the focal point of the device. Credit: David Breslauer, Wilbur Lam, and Tom Hunt (Credit: Berkeley University) 
The CellScope illumination system:
A ring of low-cost, low-power,
and high-brightness white LEDs.
The LEDs are powered by a battery
attached to the device, and are
angled to fully illuminate a sample
at the focal point of the device.
   (Credit: David Breslauer,
Wilbur Lam, and Tom Hunt
/ Berkeley University)

The goal of the project, named CellScope, is to make clinical quality microscopes accessible to patients in developing countries. Clinical quality microscopes are necessary for even the most basic medical evaluations, and in developing countries the scarcity of medical equipment is exacerbated by the lack of qualified medical personnel, especially in rural areas. The new cell-phone telemicroscope will allow people with very little means to receive diagnosis and appropriate treatments according to the remotely interpreted microscopy data. 

Preliminary work has demonstrated the technical feasibility of this ‘telemicroscopy’ concept. While the ideal result would be low-budget, high-resolution microscopy images, the project is still only in its early stages, as the technology required to achieve this goal has yet to be fully established. According to the researchers at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, the final product will enable high quality telemicroscopy, which combined with cellular communication will enable doctors to remotely diagnose diseases.  

Related Articles  Study: Slow to Grow Babies Catch up by Early Teens
 CellScope in action: Examining a microscope slide (Credit: Berkeley University)
CellScope in action:
Examining a microscope
slide (Credit: Berkeley University)

This device will also save a lot of the time and money spent on sending medical teams to diagnose patients in remote locations. Poverty stricken regions around the globe and many developing countries can benefit from this technology, since the infrastructure for cellular phones is expanding rapidly, opening the door for even more widespread use of cell-phone-based healthcare equipment. 

TFOT recently covered the Finchscope, a new 3D microscope, which may enable cheaper, faster, and more accurate three-dimensional imaging, and the development of a new scanning tunneling microscope, which could speed up atomic-level microscopy. Another related story is the development of a miniature sensor that can measure air and water pollution levels, which can help scientists in highly polluted countries and regions. 

The CellScope Project is actively developing a second-generation device for field testing in 2008. For more information about its progress, see the telemicroscopy webpage.