Smartphones to boost cancer diagnostics

Smartphones are becoming smarter by the day!

Nowadays, we can use smartphone technology for so much more than just staying in touch – social activities, navigation, planning, computing, programming, analysis of data, and now – data collection too!

In March (2015) a group of scientists from Boston published a paper in PNAS on utilising pimped smartphones for cancer diagnostics. The so called D3 system (where D3 stands for digital diffraction diagnosis) relays on the signal from microbeads binding to targets in different cells, allowing to recognise the cancerous cells from the healthy ones in only about 45 minutes. The argument for attempting it is obvious – conventional microscopy requires usually extremely expensive equipment and very well-trained microscopists – two things that are often lacking in underdeveloped regions. The diffraction patterns generated in the samples are recorded by a smartphone and digital processing reconstructs the images to retrieve the info. A novel snap-op module was developed for the task. It contains a light source and a sample holder. The image processing is carried out on a dedicated server via cloud service and the reconstructed images are sent back to the smartphone device once processed. The team also developed an app-interface to facilitate all these operations. As a control, the developers used the diagnostic data generated by standard diagnostics techniques to compare the performance of their new smart solution. Turns out, the techniques is a very decent cheaper-substitute for high-tech imaging diagnostics in regions where the latter is not present.

However, the accessibility of the actual microbeads for labelling the samples to be imaged is another topic. Nonetheless, the advancement Lee et al. developed is impressive and valuable.

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