Nanotech imaging device shows potential to make disease diagnosis with smartphones

A nanotech imaging device, small enough to fit on the lens of a smartphone, has the potential to make diagnosis of certain diseases accessible and affordable for people in rural and remote areas, according to the Australian scientists who developed it. developed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an emphasis on diagnostics and the World Health Organization has called on countries to prioritize investments in quality diagnostics as the first step in controlling, treating and preventing infections. diseases.

Scientists from the University of Melbourne and the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems (TMOS) published details of the device in the journal ACS Photonics.

Currently, disease detection relies primarily on light microscopes to study changes in biological cells.

This typically involves staining cells with chemicals in a lab environment and using high-end microscopes, which are bulky and expensive.”


Lukas Wesemann, lead study author and researcher at the University of Melbourne and TMOS

Researchers have miniaturized phase imaging technology with the use of metasurfaces that can manipulate light passing through them to make invisible aspects of objects, such as living biological cells, visible. Phase imaging relies on contrasting levels of transparency between the tissues or cells under study.

“Our flat optical device which is only a few hundred nanometers thick can perform the same kind of microscopy technique that is used a lot in the study of biological cells. It can be integrated above a camera lens to help detect changes in biological cells indicative of disease,” says Wesemann.

Diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis, trypanosomiasis and babesiosis, which can be detected by light microscopy, are potential candidates for detection with this device in the future.

“The advantage of being able to visualize cells with this type of device is the fact that they can be alive and do not need to be processed before they can be visualized. It is in real time and requires no computer processing.The device does all the work,” says study co-author Ann Roberts, TMOS lead researcher and professor at the University of Melbourne.

In addition to allowing remote medical diagnoses, this new tool could make it possible to detect diseases at home. Patients could obtain their own samples through saliva or a drop of blood and send the image to a lab anywhere in the world for rapid evaluation and diagnosis.

“Early diagnosis could make rapid treatment possible and may lead to better health outcomes. Making medical diagnostic devices smaller, cheaper, and more portable will help disadvantaged regions access healthcare that is currently only available to first-world countries,” adds Roberts.

The manufacturing cost of the current prototype device is around US$700, as it is made with the tools that are also used in manufacturing electronic computer chips. The researchers say they are looking for industry collaboration to commercialize the device.

“We are confident that in the near future we will be able to produce manufacturing methods that are more suitable for mass production and reduce the cost of the device to pennies,” Wesemann said. SciDev.Net.

“It’s a very fundamental technique that any engineer could pick up and integrate into any mobile medical imaging device, it doesn’t even have to be a smartphone.”

Michael Abramoff, ophthalmologist, computer engineer and founder and executive chairman of the American company Digital Diagnostics, says SciDev.Net“This is a new imaging modality, and the feasibility of such optical phase imaging using incident light is promising, as there are many nearly transparent tissues that are difficult to image without contrast or radiation.

“We look forward to the application of this modality to biological tissues, and in particular to the retina, as this is where neural and vascular tissues can be imaged simultaneously.”

Source:

Journal reference:

Wesmann, L. et al. (2022) Real-time phase imaging with an asymmetric transfer function metasurface. ACS Photonics. doi.org/10.1021/acsphotonics.2c00346.

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