May 8, 2015 | By Alec

High-tech medical applications of 3D printing are being developed in laboratories all over the world, but a team of researchers from the University of California Berkeley once again remind us of what can be done with a regular FDM 3D printer. They have developed the CellScope Loa, a mobile phone attachment that turns a smartphone camera into a clinical grade microscope capable of testing blood samples for parasites.

Now you might wonder what the point of such a device is, but it can be an absolute lifesaver in the third world. In Africa, for instance, the spread of a parasitic blood worm called Loa Loa is wreaking havoc in hospitals. Doctors and patients are often unaware of the presence of the worm, which is capable of making treatment for common issues such as river blindness (caused by fly bites) and lymphatic filariasis (spread by mosquitos and results in an elephantine like swelling of body parts) a life and death situation.

In both cases, the Loa Loa parasite can cause severe or fatal brain damage during treatment. But with this new device – which only needs a drop of blood to function – the detection of parasites can be done more affordably, simpler and in any medical station in the continent.

The CellScope Loa has been in development for a few years now and has been pioneered by Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering. The final breakthrough has recently been published in the journal Science Translation Medicine, with Berkeley bioengineers Michael D’Ambrosio and Matthew Bakalar as co-authors, as well as a number of other researchers from the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon and the University of Montpellier in France.

In a nutshell, their solution consists of a 3D printed plastic adaptor that comprises LED lights, microcontrollers, gears and a USB port. It holds a smartphone and features a base that can hold a single drop of blood. Via Bluetooth, an app on the phone communicates with the base runs the blood sample in front of the phone’s camera. The app then scans the blood for wriggling worms, and processes that into an analysis. The whole process takes just two minutes, and you’ll know if you’ve been infected.

‘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,’ professor Fletcher said of the CellScope on his university’s website. ‘The video CellScope provides accurate, fast results that enable health workers to make potentially life-saving treatment decisions in the field.’

A series of tests in Cameroon, where both of the problematic conditions described above are prevalent. The team discovered that they were able to detect the parasitic worms at a very high accuracy (comparable to convential methods) at a very low price. ‘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.’

In fact, this 3D printing solution has proven to be much quicker and more effective than traditional methods. The standard methods involves manual counting of worms in a blood sample, making the process impractical, time consuming and open for human error. But this new option will enable doctors to determine whether or not treatment is safe within minutes. ‘The availability of a point-of-care test prior to drug treatment is a major advance in the control of these debilitating diseases,’ said professor Vincent Resh, who has a lot of experience with diseases in West Africa. ‘The research offering a phone-based app is ingenious, practical and highly needed.’

The initial results were so encouraging, that the practical study of the CellScope is set to be expanded to 40,000 people all over Cameroon. With a bit of luck, this 3D printing innovation can begin to save lives all over Africa in just a few years’ time.

A brief overview of how the device works:

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

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