UCLA Lensless Cell Phone Microscope Headed for Trials

Researchers at UCLA are experimenting with a lensless microscope that works with either a mobile device or a PC. During trials in Africa, the microscope, which uses holographic shadows, will test for malaria, HIV and tuberculosis.

A team of UCLA researchers is headed to Africa this summer for a series of experiments on a new type of lensless microscope that can work with either a mobile device, such as a smartphone, or a PC.

The research group is led by Aydogan Ozcan of UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute. The idea behind the new device is to use mobile technology to test for infectious diseases in remote areas of Africa, South America and Asia.

The microscope attaches to a mobile phone, laptop or PC using a USB connection and can also be operated directly through a cell phone's camera, Ozcan, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, told eWEEK.

In May, Ozcan's research on the lensless USB microscope was awarded three grants: $400,000 from the National Science Foundation, $100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $10,000 from the National Geographic Emerging Explorers program.

Ozcan plans tests of the cell phone microscope this summer in Africa.

Without the lens, the holographic microscope is lighter as well as more compact and cost-effective, he said. With a miniaturized lens of about 1.5 ounces, the microscope will be big enough to fit on most cell phones. Any point-of-care health clinic with an Internet connection will be able to use the microscope.

The microscopes can be controlled by a laptop, desktop or phone and run off the battery of those devices. The unit works using diffraction, which entails capturing images through shadows. An LED illuminates the specimen, and a detector array records patterns from the shadows as the LED light bounces off the cells in the sample.

The microscope will be targeted toward the education market and impoverished areas.

The trials will be held in Africa because of the presence of infectious diseases to test, said Ozcan.

"We would like to have this microscope work as something that could diagnose infectious diseases like malaria, HIV and tuberculosis," he explained. "That's where we can find patients."

Researchers will train with a parasites clinic first, followed by real blood samples, Ozcan said. The cell phone microscope will be used for field work, such as following earthquakes and power outages, and also will be suitable for veterinarians.

On the microscope's slide, researchers will be able to take samples of blood, sweat, sputum, water from a lake and fresh water. Images are then sent by a mobile phone to a doctor's office.

Depending on how the tests in Africa go, South America and India could follow sometime next year due to the presence of malaria and HIV in these areas, Ozcan said.