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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Microscopes without lenses for high-throughput and mobile health solutions

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. My school semester ended last week, and I spent every waking moment not at work over the past month finishing projects and studying. But for now, a respite. I have a week off of school before my summer classes start, so this is a good time to catch up on some things.

Several weeks ago a press release I wrote about lab-on-a-chip microscopy was distributed by UCLA. I’ve been working with the professor, Aydogan Ozcan, for three or four years now. Writing press releases, news items for the CNSI website, and even nominating him for awards. It has been fascinating to see the progression of his technology.

A little background on Ozcan’s technology first. It is essentially a microscope without a lens. Capturing an image without using a lens to focus the light is done through some clever computer tricks. When a light is shown on organic structures, like cells, they produce a shadow. But because they are semi-transparent, the outline of sub-cellular structures are also apparent from the shadow.

An LED light illuminates the samples, causing the shadows of microparticles in the sample to be projected onto a digital sensor array, which records the shadow images. Taking advantage of the fact that microparticles like red blood cells have consistent and particle-specific structures, Ozcan developed computer algorithms capable of instantly identifying and counting microparticles in a sample.


A lens is the main size constraint in constructing a microscope, so removing the lens allowed Ozcan’s device to be scaled down enough to fit on a cellphone. The device works with a broad array of cell phones and interfaces with the phone so that captured images can be sent over cellular networks to a hospital for analysis. Because cell phones have penetrated most of the planet, this leapfrogs the development of healthcare infrastructure to deliver diagnostics to remote areas.

Now, onto the latest research. Ozcan has shrunk his lens-free imager down even more to lab-on-a-chip dimensions. Instead of interfacing with a cellphone, this iteration is designed to work in tandem with a microfluidic chip, which could deposit samples onto the lens-free imager for characterization. These two automated technologies could provide a sort of high-throughput system for analyzing biological fluid samples.

The lens-free imaging technology for cell phones is being commercialized by a startup company called Microskia. They recently moved into the Technology Incubator at CNSI, where they will be further developing the technology.

Visit the UCLA Newsroom to read my full press release.