A miniature lensless microscope, the world’s smallest and lightest – weighing only 46 grams – was created by an engineer for telemedicine applications.
The microscope builds on imaging technology known as LUCAS (Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging), which was developed by Aydogan Ozcan, assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Instead of using a lens to magnify objects, LUCAS generates holographic images of microparticles or cells by employing a light-emitting diode to illuminate the objects and a digital sensor array to capture their images.
The technology can be used to image blood samples or other fluids, even in Third World countries.
“This is a very capable and yet cost-effective microscope, shrunk into a very small package,” Ozcan said. “Our goal with this project was to develop a device that can be used to improve health outcomes in resource-limited settings,” he added.
The lensless microscope, in addition to being far more compact and lightweight than conventional microscopes, also obviates the need for trained technicians to analyse the images produced. Images are analysed by computer so that results are available instantaneously.
Weighing 46 grams, approximately as much as a large egg, the microscope is a self-contained imaging device.
The only external attachments necessary are a USB connection to a smart-phone, PDA or computer, which supplies the microscope with power and allows images to be uploaded for conversion into results and then sent to a hospital.
Samples are loaded using a small chip that can be filled with saliva or a blood smear for health monitoring.
With blood smears, the lensless microscope is capable of accurately identifying cells and particles, including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, a UCLA release said.
The technology has the potential to help monitor diseases like malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis in areas where there are great distances between people in need of health care and the facilities capable of providing it, Ozcan said.
It can even be used to test water quality in the field following a disaster like a hurricane or earthquake.
The findings were published online in Lab on a Chip.