With physicians more reliant on mobile technology every day, UCLA researchers may have just created an mHealth workhorse. It's a lightweight, compact, dual-mode microscope that fits in the palm of your hand and weighs only a few ounces.
The breakthrough allowing researchers to miniaturize a field microscope came with the use of holograms instead of physical lenses, which can only get so small before they lose resolution, according to a study published in the Optical Society of America's journal, Optics InfoBase.
Perhaps the most surprising element: It's cheap. Even with space-age-sounding holographic technology at its core, the microscope can be manufactured from commercially available components for between $50 and $100, according to researchers.
One field limitation, however, is that without a physical lens, the microscope must be able to connect to a computer. Unlike traditional microscopes, where the clinician looks directly at the specimen through an eyepiece, a computer has to translate the portable microscope's hologram patterns into a viewable image.
The technology is targeted at global health problems, according to the authors. "Global health is a big field that requires better diagnostic tools, because resource-poor countries don't have the infrastructure for conducting essentially accurate diagnostic tests," study author Aydogan Ozcan says in a statement. "There are so many problems that innovative solutions [like this microscope] would impact."
But it seems a no-brainer that it also could be used in the U.S. during urban outbreaks (where rapid diagnosis is critical), to track disease in remote or difficult-to-access areas, or to diagnose patients outside of the hospital setting.