We’ve seen many a camera add-on that turns your cellphone camera into a microscope or telephoto shooter. But, it’s not everyday that we see technological breakthroughs in bio-tech that can turn your lowly mobile phone into super portable blood analysis tool. That’s right, your cellphone can now help you track the progression of Malaria and HIV!
Professor Aydogan Ozcan and his team at the California NanoSystems Institute at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have gone public with their innovative new imaging technology that allows for cheap and portable blood analysis. The new imaging solution, dubbed LUCAS (Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging), has the potential to bring costly and cumbersome blood analysis tools to health workers in the “field.” The miniaturized technology can be adapted to cellphones and webcams, turning them into portable blood analysis labs with attractive applications for under-developed regions.
The LUCAS system resolves “holographic” images of individual blood cells and germ-fighting leukocytes at the cellular level – all without the need for a physical optical lens. The system works by passing a “coherent” (uniform intensity) blue light through a sample of blood. This blue light is passed through the blood sample and hits the CMOS image sensor that is used in many webcams and cellphone cameras. On its journey through the blood sample the light becomes partially absorbed by blood cells (thicker portions of a cell absorb more light), resulting in “see-through” images of blood cells.
These “holographs,” as Ozcan’s team calls them, can be analyzed to determine the progression and treatment of blood-borne maladies like Malaria and HIV (by way of counting CD4 leukocytes). It’s important to note that LUCAS can not resolve images down to the viral-level. HIV monitoring is possible only by counting the number of CD4 white blood cells linked with HIV progression.
The holographic images are transmitted to a computer via webcam software or uploaded from a cellphone. Health workers can then use the proprietary LUCAS software, developed by Ozcan, to automatically analyze these images. The software can count the number of blood cells in a sample as well as determining cell type (by comparing images to a library of cell images), making for almost fool-proof blood analysis.
LUCAS has advantages over simple microscope-based analysis because it can image a large field of blood cells, allowing for cell-counting and wide-field sample analysis. But, a microscope is still required for a detailed look at individual cells – LUCAS’s grainy images can only indicate cell size and general shape. And, in its miniaturized form, LUCAS puts the analyzing power of desk-sized laboratory equipment into the pocket of a health-care field worker.
Ozcan hopes to soon see his innovative new imaging technology go from prototype to actual hardware for use in developing countries.