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Researchers turn mobile phone cameras into microscopes V.J. | , 1:23 p.m. July 22, 2009 2009-07-22

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have managed to develop a cell phone microscope, or CellScope, that can take color images of malaria parasites as well as tuberculosis bacteria labeled with fluorescent markers.

The move marks a major step forward in taking clinical microscopy out of specialized laboratories and into field settings for disease screening and diagnoses. The prototype CellScope was describe in the July 22 issue of PLoS ONE.

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

The CellScope project focuses on the development of a modular, high-magnification microscope attachment for cell phones. Due to its portability, affordability and functionality, the CellScope will enable health workers in remote areas to take high-resolution images of a patient's blood cells using the mobile phone's camera, and then transmit the photos to experts at medical centers. This device can reduce both the cost and time of performing critical disease diagnoses, as well as provide early warning of outbreaks in poverty-stricken regions in the world.

The CellScope team is developing a range of prototype lenses of varying lengths, giving either low or high magnification, depending on the lens and the application. The team envisions that the final product, after the optics are optimized, will be only a few inches long and weigh less than a pound. Already, they have successfully imaged malaria and tuberculosis (TB) using the CellScope system with image quality comparable to standard diagnostic microscopy. Their current focus is on developing applications to tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis and monitoring. Over the next year the team plans to carry out a pilot field study in collaboration with partner and begin the revision of the CellScope based on field test data.

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