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Friday 28th October 2016

Can mobiles be used as medical devices?

16th May 2008

The Economist looks into pioneering research which could allow mobile phone technology to be used to create medical devices.


Dr Dan Fletcher is the head of a research team at the University of California in Berkeley. Dr Fletcher's team has created an attachment which transforms the camera used in current mobile phones into a microscope.

The attachment is known as a CellScope. It is able to identify red and white blood cells.

A mobile can also be used to send an image, which could aid in "the remote diagnosis and monitoring of many illnesses".

The research started out when Dr Fletcher challenged his students "to turn their mobile phones into microscopes".

The first versions of the design were large enough to cover the top of a table, but the most recent designs - incorporating a slide and offering various magnifying levels - can be attached "directly onto the phone".

The researchers have estimated that the mobile microscope could eventually cost under $100. Global companies, including Microsoft and Nokia, have expressed interest in the mobile microscopes, and Microsoft has donated equipment to the project.

Malaria diagnosis was used as the initial test due to the fact that "it demands a high-quality image". The team were able to accurately identify malaria samples.

CellScope could be used "to extend the clinician's range". Blood samples could be taken by a person who had minimal training and then could be sent to someone who "could carry out the diagnosis."

Dr Fletcher has said that CellScope might help cancer patients to have their cell counts monitored at home, rather than having to visit a hospital once a week.

The mobiles could also be used by farmers. They could transmit pictures of crop problems "for remote diagnosis by agricultural experts".

More bioengineering research is being carried out at Berkeley by Boris Rubinsky and a team of researchers. They want to "make medical imagining simpler, cheaper and more widely available".

In the future, mobile phones could become an "indispensable piece of medical kit".


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