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We Can Now Sequence DNA With a Smartphone

A new microscope attachment could make cancer screening accessible in the most remote areas of the world.

By Stephanie Mlot

Researchers at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, Sweden’s Stockholm University, and Uppsala University have created a smartphone-based microscope that could make cancer screening accessible to healthcare workers in the more remote areas of the world.

The device could be tremendously useful in underdeveloped countries, where doctors don’t always have the tools or expertise to conduct DNA sequencing analysis and testing for genetic mutations. This lightweight optical attachment, which works with a standard smartphone camera, could be mass-produced for less than $500 a piece.

“A typical microscope with multiple imaging modes would cost around $10,000,” lead researcher Aydogan Ozcan, UCLA professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering, said in a statement. “Whereas higher-end versions, such as the one we used to validate our mobile-phone microscope, would go for $50,000 or more.”

The research team’s cheap, 3D-printed alternative plugs into a smartphone to record multi-mode images at the same quality as a traditional light microscope would do. It then feeds data to an algorithm for automatic analysis. According to UCLA, the gadget can even detect small amounts of cancer cells hidden among a large group of normal ones.

“Ultra-low-cost DNA sequencing and tumor biopsy analysis, in which morphology and mutation analysis are combined, can substantially decrease diagnostic costs and make it more widely accessible,” one of the study’s first authors, Malte Kühnemund of SciLifeLab, said.

While diagnostic tests are usually outsourced to specialized labs and sequencing centers, this technology could allow doctors to perform high-end cancer diagnostics anywhere in the world.

The prototype device uses a Nokia Lumia 1020 handset, with a 38-megapixel camera featuring a 1/1.5-inch sensor; a long focal length of 6.86mm, plus the microscope’s external lens provides a magnification factor of about 2.6 times.

“It’s very important to have these molecular testing approaches at a doctor’s office or where care is being given,” said Mats Nilsson, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities. “Oftentimes, advanced lab-based testing is performed at major hospitals, which is limiting, as not everyone has access to a hospital that can perform these tests.”



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