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Camera-Phone Uses Blood, Saliva Samples To Diagnose Disease

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a “prototype camera-phone mounted with a microscope” that can “magnify and photograph blood or saliva samples” for diagnosing diseases, the Canadian Press/Google.com reports. A report on the device was published on Wednesday in the journal PLoS One. The prototype, called CellScope, would enable “disease screening and diagnosis in the field where specialized clinical microscopy laboratories aren’t available, including in underdeveloped countries,” according to the news service (Ubelacker, 7/21). 

The CellScope can function as a fluorescent microscope by using “cheap commercial light-emitting diodes as the light source – in place of the high-power, gas-filled lamps used in laboratory versions of the device, and cheap optical filters to isolate the light coming from the fluorescent tags,” the BBC reports (7/22).

“Using samples of infected blood and sputum, the researchers were able to use the camera phone to capture bright field images of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria in humans, and sickle-shaped red blood cells,” according to a UC Berkeley press release. In addition, they also captured fluorescent images of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis and “showed that the TB bacteria could be automatically counted using image analysis software,” according to the publication.

Dan Fletcher, a UC Berkeley associate professor of bioengineering and head of the research team developing the CellScope, said, “The same regions of the world that lack access to adequate health facilities are, paradoxically, well-served by mobile phone networks. We can take advantage of these mobile networks to bring low-cost, easy-to-use lab equipment out to more remote settings” (7/21).

According to David Breslauer, a graduate student researcher who specializes in developing small medical devices, “The system could be used to help provide early warning of outbreaks by shortening the time needed to screen, diagnose and treat infectious diseases,” writes the Canadian Press/Google.com (7/21).

The researchers are currently developing more robust prototypes that will be used in additional field tests. “Funding for the CellScope project comes from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Blum Center for Developing Economies, both at UC Berkeley, and from Microsoft Research, Intel and the Vodafone Americas Foundation,” according to the UC Berkeley press release (7/21).  

Scientific American examines the development of the CellScope and explores its possible future uses (Kendrick, 7/21).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.