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With tweaks, iPhone could diagnose blood diseases

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | October 04, 2011
iPhone microscope (Credit: Z. J. Smith,
K. Chu, A. R. Espenson,
M. Rahimzadeh, A. Gryshuk, M. Molinaro,
D. M. Dwyre, S. Lane, D. Matthews,
S. Wachsmann-Hogiu)
For doctors and nurses working in rural hospitals in poor countries without access to a laboratory, it can be hard to diagnose blood diseases. Now, a team of Calif. researchers said Monday a few simple, affordable tweaks can turn an iPhone into a microscope or spectrometer.

The University of California, Davis scientists said they added a 1-millimeter ball lens, which costs about $30 to $40, to the iPhone's camera. Although the ball lens is only as powerful as a weak magnifying glass, coupled with the camera's millions of light-capturing cells, it's able to resolve details as small as 1.5 microns. That's small enough for doctors to make out different types of blood cells, the researchers said.

However, the lenses themselves distort light except for a tiny spot in their center, so the engineers had to use image processing software to eliminate distortion and to sew together several images from the only in-focus spot. It's not as sharp as a full-on laboratory microscope, the researchers said, but it would do the trick in identifying, for instance, anemia.
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And the lens could be replaced with a plastic tube and some electrical tape to turn the iPhone into a sort of jury-rigged spectrometer, the scientists said. They created a homemade device, attached to the iPhone, that can help analyze various light wavelengths reflected from a sample. As molecules usually reflect specific wavelengths, scientists could use the device to find disease or measure the amount of oxygen in the blood.

But the project is still in its infancy, and the scientists said they still needed to do a lot of testing first.

Of course, they're not the only team working on a microscope smartphone. Fellow scientists at University of California, Berkeley, have established a start-up, called CellScope, with similar aims.

Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu, lead researcher of the study and a physicists at Davis, will present the team's findings at the Optical Society's annual meeting in San Jose, Calif., which runs Oct. 16-20. In March, Wachsmann-Hogiu and his colleagues also published a paper on their project in the journal PLoS One.

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