If you’re a member of Generation Y, chances are you can do a lot of different things with your cell phone: text, email, surf the web, pay for merchandise, take pictures and movies — oh, and even talk to people in real time! But have you ever used it to test your blood for diseases? Didn’t think so.
Dr. Aydogan Ozcan at UCLA looked at the relatively inexpensive hardware in a Sony Ericsson w810i camera phone and thought, “I could use that to detect malaria.” By adding a filtered light source (blue in the image below), the camera is able to acquire images that can then be analyzed for the presence of distinguishing cell characteristics that indicate specific diseases such as malaria — or to count CD4+T cells to monitor the health of patients with HIV.
The process is known as LUCAS, which loosely stands for Lensfree Ultrawide-field Cell-monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging. Currently, Ozcan’s software for analyzing the images must be run on a desktop computer, but his plans include loading the software into a hand-held device that could provide both imaging and analysis on the spot. This could not only improve turn-around time for diagnosis at the doctor’s office, but could revolutionize diagnostic medicine in third-world countries where labs are as scarce as the money to equip them.
The same technology could also be used to build larger, more powerful devices that would still be much smaller and less expensive than existing laboratory test equipment. These larger systems would be capable of providing different light frequencies to test for more markers, whereas the handheld devices would be more targeted to specific tests.
As one commenter on Slashdot said: “And thus the building blocks of the medical tricorder are laid.” Obviously it’s got a long way to go, but this looks like a step in the right direction.