April 15, 2009 The CellScope is a revolutionary attachment that turns a standard camera-enabled cell phone into a clinical quality microscope, with magnification up to 50X. Health workers in developing countries, where expensive equipment, facilities and on-the-ground physicians are scarce, will be able to use the mobile microscope to quickly and easily capture images of blood cells, lesions and infections and transmit them via the cell phone network to remote experts for analysis and diagnosis.

While most of us take for granted the convenience and fun of camera phones, the CellScope, developed by researchers at the University of California, at Berkeley, clearly demonstrates the powerful potential of this mobile technology to save lives.

Microscopy is a key tool in the diagnosis and management of infectious diseases, but in developing countries especially access to quality equipment, health centers and experts is limited or non-existent. However, many of these countries have a well-developed, robust cellular network that is ideal for telemicroscopy, the transmission and sharing of microscope images via the internet or other communications networks.

By clipping the CellScope to a camera-enabled cell phone, PDA or netbook, people in the field, with relatively little training, can collect and organise patient data, then send it wirelessly and expect an almost immediate response, including treatment, recommendations and patient management.

The CellScope has the potential to provide a low-cost, time-efficient – even time-critical - way of diagnosing and monitoring infectious diseases, such as malaria and TB, two of the biggest killers in the developing world, as well as providing early warning of outbreaks. It will also enable easy and affordable epidemiological studies to be carried out.

Different lenses are being developed, from lower magnification, which are required for ear, nose and throat examinations, through to the maximum 50x magnification, which can show individual white and red blood cells. With a small amount of training and equipment, local workers will be able to take and stain samples to be transmitted to experts who can identify malaria and other diseases, or monitor patients’ conditions over time.

The CellScope clips easily to a cell phone via a modified belt clip. Illumination is provided by a ring of low-cost, low-power, high-brightness white LEDs, powered by a battery attached to the device. It can be angled to fully illuminate a sample at the focal point.

Originally the idea for the CellScope began with Daniel Fletcher, a professor of bioengineering at Berkeley, who challenged his students to develop a camera phone microscope. The team is working now on another version of the CellScope to be used in more developed countries. With the CellScope, for example, cancer patients may be able to perform critical tasks, such as blood cell counts, at home and send in the data, avoiding the need to make stressful trips to hospital.

The CellScope, like the Mobile Solar Computer Classroom was recently awarded $100, 000 in the Intel INSPIRE•EMPOWER Challenge. The team plans to use the money to improve the CellScope through rigorous testing and revision. The CellScope was also a winner of Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project.

Watch the CellScope video from Popular Science for more information.

Karen Sprey