Lens-free Microscope Can Detect Cancer at the Cellular Level

A team of researchers from the lab of Aydogan Ozcan at the University of California at Los Angeles has developed a lens-free microscope that can be used to detect the presence of cancer or other cell-level abnormalities with the same accuracy as larger and more expensive optical microscopes. It could lead to less expensive and more portable technology for performing common examinations of tissue, blood and other biomedical specimens. It may prove especially useful in remote areas and in cases where large numbers of samples need to be examined quickly.

“This is a milestone in the work we’ve been doing,” said Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor Ozcan, who also is the associate director of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute. “This is the first time tissue samples have been imaged in 3D using a lens-free on-chip microscope.”

The device works by using a laser or light-emitting diode to illuminate a tissue or blood sample that has been placed on a slide and inserted into the device. A sensor array on a microchip – the same type of chip that is used in digital cameras, including cellphone cameras – captures and records the pattern of shadows created by the sample.

These patterns are processed as a series of holograms, forming 3D images of the specimen and giving medical personnel a virtual depth-of-field view. An algorithm color-codes the reconstructed images, making the contrasts in the samples more apparent than they would be in the holograms and making any abnormalities easier to detect.

Ozcan’s team tested the device using Pap smears that indicated cervical cancer, tissue specimens containing cancerous breast cells, and blood samples containing sickle cell anemia. In a blind test, a board-certified pathologist analyzed sets of specimen images that had been created by the lens-free technology and by conventional microscopes. The pathologist’s diagnoses using the lens-free microscopic images proved accurate 99 percent of the time.

Another benefit of the lens-free device is that it produces images that are several hundred times larger in area, or field of view, than those captured by conventional bright-field optical microscopes, which makes it possible to process specimens more quickly.

“While mobile health care has expanded rapidly with the growth of consumer electronics, pathology is still, by and large, constrained to advanced clinical laboratory settings,” Ozcan said. “This platform could scale up for use in clinical, biomedical, and scientific applications, among others.” (Source: UCLA)

Reference: A. Greenbaum et al.: Wide-field computational imaging of pathology slides using lens-free on-chip microscopy, Sci. Transl. Med. 6 (2014) 267; DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3009850

Links: University of California Los Angeles

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