Here’s the house call of the future. A prototype cell phone that monitors HIV and malaria patients and tests water quality in undeveloped areas or disaster sites. Data is then be sent via the cell phone to a hospital for analysis and diagnosis.
The imaging platform is already here. It’s called LUCAS and has been experimentally installed in a cell phone and a webcam, each of which then takes an image of blood, saliva or other fluids using short-wavelength blue light. LUCAS can identify and count the microparticles instantly by using a decision algorithm to compare the captured images to a library of images.
The technology is the brainchild of electrical engineer Aydogan Ozcan of UCLA. His latest version, called holographic LUCAS, is described in the journal Lab On A Chip. Holographic LUCAS can identify smaller particles than before, such as E. coli. Ozcan’s next step is to build a handheld device for people in remote areas to use to monitor the spread of disease, allowing doctors to know where they’re most needed fast.
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the PEN USA Literary Award, the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal.