Mobile phones have become one of the most universal pieces of advanced technology in the world, and they are about to become even more vital. Aydogan Ozcan of UCLA has developed a microscope attachment for a cell phone – turning the device into a sort of mobile medical lab. It’s both lightweight (~38g or 1.5 oz) and cheap (parts cost around $10). As described in the journal Lab on a Chip, the cellphone microscope can analyze blood and saliva samples for microparticles, red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and water borne parasites.
LUCAS’s main advantage over other systems is that it uses no lenses or lasers, so its very cheap and can fit into a small space with little weight. For just $10 you can put a microscope on a cellphone and turn it into a medical testing platform. A nurse or aid giver in the field takes a blood or saliva sample, places it into the device and sends the picture to an automated database which will return data on the required information (such as red blood cell count). That information can be used to diagnose the patient.
The LUCAS attachment for cellphones looks like one of those rare technologies which could make a significant impact quickly and effectively. Ozcan has already secured enough funding to field prototypes of the device around the world. It should start testing trials in the next year, allowing medical professionals in remote (and not so remote) places in Africa to analyze patients for diseases such as malaria. In Lab on a Chip, Ozcan’s team also demonstrated that LUCAS can identify a water borne parasite (in that case Giardia lamblia) which opens up even more possibilities for its use on the continent. If successful in its early trials, expect to see this $10 device popping up all over the globe.