Americans and Swedes team up to create a smartphone-based microscope that can diagnose cancer and infections
A microscope, the result of collaboration between researchers at UCLA, Stockholm University and Uppsala University, was produced with a 3D printer. It is small and inexpensive, but when connected to a smartphone camera, its potential rewards are life saving. It can be used to analyze samples of tumors or bacteria, virus and fungal cells, offering doctors immediate information on certain variants and allowing them to know exactly what form of cancer, bacteria or virus is involved. This is DNA sequencing, which is key to discovering the most effective treatment —immediately.
“Antibiotics are effective against bacteria. But we are losing that weapon when bacteria become resistant,” says Mats Nilsson from Stockholm and Uppsala universities and Science for Life Lab in Stockholm. “However, if we could look at the DNA-level and find out if a bacterium is sensitive to a certain type of antibiotics, we could choose the right treatment from the very beginning.”
Creating the affordable DNA test
The study, published by Nature Communications, was used to identify cancerous tumors in the colon. A sample of the patient’s tissue was put in a container and placed under a special lens attached to the smartphone’s camera. Two laser diodes and a white LED beamed light into the sample in a pre-set sequence, and the resulting images were fed into an algorithm for analysis. By analyzing certain mutations in the tumor, doctors could rule out ineffective treatments.
“One should treat patients with the right antibiotics at the time of diagnosis, and the only way to figure that out in the short-term is an affordable and simple DNA test,” says Nilsson.
The DNA-analyzing smartphone attachment is a fraction of the cost of lab-based kit. If the new device is produced in large quantities, it could be manufactured for much less than $500. It could run on the smartphone battery, independent from constant power supply.
Moreover, the small 3D-printed microscope can also make this technology accessible for many more people, even in poorer parts of the world, and makes it possible to send images and information about DNA to specialists in different parts of the world.
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