The Lucas Microscope: From Smartphones To Microscopes

smartphone microscopeAs if smartphones couldn’t get any more useful, one scientist found a way to make it even better. University of California-Los Angeles Associate Professor Dr. Aydogan Ozcan has revolutionized the way the medical industry uses smartphones. The mobile gadgets is now making waves in the healthcare industry as health workers can now begin using their smartphones as microscopes. Dr. Ozcan, a scientist whose expertise in bio- and nano-photonics won him the award of being one of the world’s “Brilliant 10” scientists according to the Popular Science magazine, is credited for innovating smartphones, turning them into microanalysis tools that health workers all over the world can use to diagnose patients accurately even in locations that are difficult to reach.

The electrical engineering and bioengineering scientist invented the tiny device in 2010. The LUCAS microscope costs only $10 to manufacture but the tiny yet novel imaging technology is powerful enough to detect life-threatening diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. The microscope is high-powered and adaptable to different environments. It’s lens-free, compact, and cost-effective too. How exactly does the tiny chip work? Simply by detecting the multi-dimensional shadows that cells have. Because the microanalysis tool is highly-sensitive and high-powered, it can easily detect irregularities in cells. This means that cell abnormalities found in water and saliva will be very noticeable from the naked eye. What makes it even more practical in developing countries is that it takes advantage of cloud technology. Health workers, no matter where they are in the world, can easily send the images from their cell phones to a computer as long as they have a signal.

Known for his innovations in telemedicine, Dr. Ozcan recognizes the potential for mobile phones as tools for medical diagnostics, particularly in developing countries where medical testing sometimes become complicated to accomplish. In his presentation, Dr. Ozcan said that “cell phone holds significant promise as a health monitoring platform for Global Health Problems: HIV, TB, Malaria, Food-Water contamination, etc.” He also emphasized how expensive devices cost just to test if drinking water is clean or not, not to mention being impractical to bring in developing countries because they’re too bulky and heavy.

Health workers around the world now have better access to diagnostic tools. Traditional healthcare settings have definitely taken a turn for the better and this might even affect healthcare costs in the future. In areas where hospital care is not as easily accessible to patients suffering from life-threatening diseases, the LUCAS microscope is a groundbreaking technology that will revolutionize the way health practitioners use their smartphones. Dr. Ozcan’s own research group at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has even come up with a Google Maps interface that geographically plots the results taken from the microscope to identify and track the spread of infectious diseases all over the world.

Just when we thought that technologies involving smartphones have reached an impasse, scientists come up with revolutionary ideas that make it even more indispensable to humans.

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