Cell camera turned medical microscope

March 17, 2008 8:21:10 AM PDT
Doctors and biophysicists at the University of California have developed a device that turns a common cell phone camera into a medical microscope.

It was conceived to improve health care in underdeveloped countries, but they've discovered some other uses for the "CellScope".

Dr. Wilbur Lam is examing a computer screen showing "several drops of blood that have been pressed onto a glass slide."

The image indicates malaria. It was photographed by an ordinary mobile phone.

Say you're in a remote or undeveloped part of the world, and you have to diagnose an illness. Even if you could find a microscope, you don't have a doctor to look through it, but you do have a cell phone. What if you could attach the phone to the microscope, call another cell phone halfway around the world, and have the doctor with this phone see what the microscope sees? That's the idea behind CellScope.

"We clip it into a modified belt-holder," says Dan Fletcher at the University of California at Berkeley. And they add other off-the-shelf parts to hold the cost down to less than $50. It began as a simple class project for graduate students of Fletcher, who is Associate Professor of Bioengineering.

"I think just a few years ago, it would not make sense to try something like this. It really has been the growth of wireless networks worldwide, and in particular -- if we think about developing countries -- the fact that wireless networks are ubiquitous in many areas."

Using Bluetooth, wi-fi and cellular networks, a phone needs no modification itself. Capable of 50x magnification today, the devices could provide twice that. A smaller prototype features its own light source.

"This could be useful even at home," suggests Fletcher, "where, for example, early warnings of a change in the shape of a mole could be sent to your clinician on a regular basis to monitor."

In addition, cancer patients could conduct their own blood cell counts that today require larger microscopes and particle counters.

Dr. Lam, Pediatric Oncologist at UCSF, is one of the grad students working on CellScope. He adds, "By no means do we think this is going to replace those large particle counters. It's just a good adjunct for the patient to have at home."

Microsoft recently awarded the CellScope project $100,000 dollars to complete development. A simple use of existing technology. Finally, something to phone home about.

------- Links -------

Daniel Fletcher Lab

Microsoft Cellphone in Health Care Project

Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society

Blum Center for Developing Economies