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A new smartphone-based microscope


With the help of a new smartphone-based microscope, doctors can make a diagnosis for cancerous tumors and infections.

A small, simple, and cheap microscope which was produced with a 3D printer and is connected to a smartphone camera can be used to analyst samples of tumors or bacteria, virus and fungal cells. The microscope and smartphone can show how the DNA chains in the sample look like, and if the doctors detect certain variants, they know exactly what form of cancer, bacteria or virus is involved.

“I am used to big, expensive and complicated machines which fill a whole room to do the DNA sequencing. To me, the idea to use a smartphone for this was very interesting. This opens the way to many new and very important fields of application,” says Mats Nilsson, Stockholm and Uppsala University and SciLifeLab in Stockholm.

The little 3D-printed microscope can make this technology accessible for many more people, even in poorer parts of the world. If the new device were produced in large quantities, it could be manufactured for much less than $500. It could run on the smartphone battery, independent from constant power supply.

This invention could become a weapon in the battle against antibiotic resistance.

“Antibiotics are effective against bacteria. But now we are losing that weapon when bacteria become resistant. When it comes to tuberculosis, antibiotic resistance is a big problem. However, if we could look at the DNA-level and find out if a bacterium is sensitive to a certain type of antibiotics; we could choose the right treatment from the very beginning. This is where I think this concept has its great strength,” says Mats Nilsson.

In a new study published by Nature Communications, the technique was used to identify cancerous tumors in the colon. By analyzing certain mutations in the tumor, doctors could rule out the ineffective treatments, and it would also become possible to send images and information about DNA to a doctor located in a different part of the world. Researchers also hope that the technology can facilitate the diagnosis of viral infections like Ebola or Zika virus.

The microscope is the result of collaboration between researchers from the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, who have developed the microscope, and researchers from Stockholm and Uppsala University and SciLifeLab in Stockholm, who have worked with the analysis of the DNA chains.