Cell phone camera images patients? blood to identify cancer cells

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A cell phone incorporating a microscope developed at the University of California, Berkeley, can capture and transmit pictures, which researchers hope will allow patients in remote areas to send images of red blood cells and other diagnostic information to medical specialists.

According to Technology Review, researchers at the university have developed a modular, high-magnification microscope attachment for cell phones. The device will enable health workers in remote, rural areas to take high-resolution images of a patient's blood cells using a cell phone camera, and then transmit the photos to experts at medical centers. Researchers hope that the innovation will help patients with blood disorders who live far from medical specialists, get more accurately diagnosed and treated.

Daniel Fletcher, a professor of bioengineering at Berkeley, said he wanted to make optical design relevant to today. Fletcher's students integrated an arrangement of lenses with the cell phone camera and transmit magnified images to a laptop using a Bluetooth attachment to the phone. The work prompted Fletcher to file a patent through the university and try to make a practical microscope. The researchers said that the cameras in late-model phones are capable of capturing all the details that a doctor would need to identify malaria parasites and cancer cells.

The device comes in two versions: one with a magnification of about five times, for taking images of moles and rashes; and the other with a magnification of about 60 times, for capturing the details of blood cells and parasites. The higher-magnification model--the larger of the two--is roughly the size and shape of a roll of quarters. Both scopes attach to the phone with a modified belt clip, Fletcher said.

Microscopy is still considered the “gold standard” for malaria diagnosis, according to Katherine Herz, MD, a fellow in health policy at Stanford University. "If microscopy could be done with portable equipment ... [it] might be adopted far more widely and prove extremely useful,” she added.

Fletcher said he plans to test the microscope cell phone in Uganda this summer. Initially, his lab will make prototypes, with plans to hand off the design to a manufacturer at a later time. The Blum Center for Developing Economies at Berkeley, which provided initial funding, will help test the device in Kampala. The goal is to train local personnel and provide them with the necessary equipment to take pictures of patients' blood on special slides, and then phone in the images to specialists who can identify and count malaria parasites, Fletcher said.

The researchers also hope to collaborate with a telemedicine program at the University of California-Davis that serves rural California, where leukemia patients in remote areas could use the microscope cell phone to transmit images for white blood cell counts.