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New 3D Printed Microscope Could Help Fight Disease in Central Africa




Bioengineers with UC Berkley just published an article with Science Translation Medicine about a breakthrough technology that can easily detect certain diseases using a 3D printed microscope and a smartphone. The development could mean the difference between life and death for people in hard to reach areas of the world where hospitals and blood analysis equipment are few and far between.

The CellScope Loa

Using an FDM 3D printer, lead author Daniel Fletcher and his colleagues printed a relatively simple smart phone adaptor with gears, microcontrollers and a USB port. Together, the adaptor and smartphone can hold and analyze a drop of blood by communicating via Blutetooth. An app on the smartphone scans the blood for certain parasites and provides results in only two minutes.

“We previously showed that mobile phones can be used for microscopy, but this is the first device that combines the imaging technology with hardware and software automation to create a complete diagnostic solution,” said Fletcher. “The video CellScope provides accurate, fast results that enable health workers to make potentially life-saving treatment decisions in the field.”

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The Loa Loa Parasite

The CellScope Loa is an exciting solution for people in central Africa, where parasitic diseases of the blood are more common and often life threatening if not detected and treated properly. However this device was developed to serve a very specific purpose—detect the Loa Loa parasite.

A myriad of dangerous blood borne parasites are found in the region, including one that causes river blindness from fly bites, and African Eye Worm (lymphatic filariasis), which is contracted from mosquitos and can cause severe elephantiasis of affected body parts. Both of these debilitating parasites are treatable, but not if the patient is also carrying the Loa Loa Parasite. If someone is treated for river blindness or African Eye Worm while Loa Loa is in their blood system, the interaction between the parasite and medicine can result in fatal brain damage. This is why a detection device like the CellScope Loa can be life saving for people seeking treatment for parasitic diseases of the blood.

According to West African disease expert Vincent Resh, “The availability of a point-of-care test prior to drug treatment is a major advance in the control of these debilitating diseases. The research offering a phone-based app is ingenious, practical and highly needed.”

Promising Field Tests

Professor Fletcher’s published research focused on successful field tests of CellScope Loa in Cameroon, where Loa Loa and other blood parasites are prevalent. The device was shown to have high accuracy compared to traditional tools (manually counting the worms visible in a blood sample). Costing less than $100 to produce, the device is not only an affordable and portable test, but it is also more efficient than traditional methods. The researchers plan to expand the study to a sample of 40,000 people.

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“This research is addressing neglected tropical diseases,” said Fletcher. “It demonstrates what technology can do to help fill a void for populations that are suffering from terrible, but treatable, diseases.”

Find out more about CellScope Loa and the research at the UC Berkley website.

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