Communities of practice
Phones against infections
6 Jan 2009
Advanced imaging technology has been installed in a mobile telephone that can be used in blood tests for infectious diseases.
Aydogan Ozcan, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, says his group has developed a prototype cell phone capable of testing blood for malaria or HIV. It could also be used to test water quality. The imaging technology, known as LUCAS (lensless ultra-wide-field cell monitoring array platform based on shadow imaging) is not a substitute for a microscope but rather a complement. While microscopes can produce detailed images, images produced by LUCAS are grainy and pixelated. The advantage of LUCAS lies in its ability to nearly instantaneously identify and count microparticles, something that is time consuming and difficult to do with a microscope in resource-limited settings. Also, because LUCAS does not use a lens, the only constraint on size is the size of the chip it is built on.
Professor Ozcan said: “This technology will not only have great impact in health care applications, it also has the potential to replace cytometers in research labs at a fraction of the cost. A conventional flow-cytometer identifies cells serially, one at a time, whereas tabletop versions of LUCAS can identify thousands of cells in a second, all in parallel, with the same accuracy.”
When a new high-tech gadget appears, it is not always possible to predict how fast its use will spread. The mobile (‘cell’) phone has been one of the most rapidly adopted technologies, even in the least developed countries. It has been estimated, for example, that 60% of people in Africa live in areas with mobile phone coverage and an increasing number of the poorer members of society now own or have access to a mobile. The ubiquity of the mobile has been noted by the infectious disease community and Professor Ozcan is by no means the first to devise a new tool for disease control that relies on this popular technology. It has also recently been reported that a clinic in Pumwani, Kenya, is using mobile phones to send text messages to AIDS patients receiving anti-retroviral therapy so that nurses can enquire about, and respond to, patients’ needs.
The mobile also, of course, can also bring great benefits simply by enabling remotely located health workers and researchers simply to communicate by phoning or texting. This will play a great part in meeting the aim that by 2015 every person worldwide will have access to an informed healthcare provider.
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