By Wileen Wong Kromhout
A groundbreaking imaging technology developed by UCLA Engineering professor Aydogan Ozcan that can turn a simple cell phone into a powerful microscope has been named the top innovation of 2011 by The Scientist, a magazine focusing on the life sciences, research and technology. Ozcan’s compact, lightweight and inexpensive microscope has the potential to bring better health care and monitoring to impoverished and underserved areas of the globe.
The technology, known as LUCAS (Ultra–wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging), was ranked No. 1 among a field of more than 65 entries judged by the magazine as part of its annual “Top 10 Innovations” contest. Other winners in the top 10 included a new high-powered DNA sequencer, a mini-MRI system, a watch-like device that measures the body’s circadian rhythm, and a first-of-its-kind 360-degree optical imager.
Ozcan’s LUCAS is an easy-to-use, pocket-sized holographic microscope that weighs less than 50 grams, uses off-the-shelf parts and costs as little as $10. It can be attached to a cell phone’s camera, and blood and saliva samples can then be loaded onto chips that slide into the side of the microscope. The technology can be used to monitor diseases like HIV and malaria and to test water quality in the field after a major disaster
Algorithms developed by Ozcan’s research group instantly identify and count red and white blood cells and microparticles in the fluid samples, a time-consuming process typically performed by trained technicians. The image results can be sent by the cell phone to centralized hospitals for analysis by health care professionals.
“We have more than 5 billion cell phone subscribers around the world today, and because of this, cell phones can now play a central role in telemedicine applications,” said Ozcan, an associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. “Our research group has already created a very nice set of tools that can potentially replace most of the advanced instruments used currently in laboratories.”
Ozcan has garnered a great deal of media attention and professional recognition in recent years for his work on lensless computational microscopy. He’s been honored with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, and Office of Naval Research and Army Research Office Young Investigator awards, among others.
The lensless imaging platform behind the cell phone microscope is already undergoing real-world trials. Field tests of the cell phone microscope began in Africa last summer using funds received from three major awards. Next year, Karin Nielsen, an infectious diseases pediatrician at UCLA, will take the portable microscope into the fields of the Amazon to test its ability to diagnose malaria, anemia, low white blood-cell count and intestinal parasites.
For more on Ozcan’s research, visit http://innovate.ee.ucla.edu/.