A microscope isn’t a diagnostic tool, however, it merely provides medical professionals with more detailed images than the naked eye would ever allow. But if you need a diagnosis on the go, Ozcan has a solution for that, too.
He’s developed a cellphone-friendly flow cytometry, a laser-based tool that doctors and scientists use in cell analysis. The device can provide detailed parameters used for blood analysis, including hemoglobin density and white and red blood cell counts, which can help a doctor better ascertain a patient’s malady—and thus identify a remedy.
Some of Ozcan’s tools can be used for an even more specific diagnoses of some of the world’s most formidable conditions, like HIV. A cellphone-based HIV-test reader developed by Ozcan uses an opto-mechanical attachment affixed to a cellphone camera to photograph lateral flow assays and magnify the pictures. (These assays typically detect the light interaction with specific nanoparticles that bind to HIV antigens.) The images are then processed by an app, available for both iPhone and Android, which can quantify antigen density and produce a diagnostic report on the spot.
Ozcan’s cellphone-based HIV test reader isn’t just a boon for high-risk populations who don’t have the time, money, or means to be tested at a clinic. It also has the potential to revolutionize the field of HIV/AIDS research and treatment.
“Our field tests incorporate the time stamp of the measurements in addition to the demographic and locational data of each patient,” Ozcan says, “which are then securely uploaded to a central server.”
With this database, Ozcan and his team have developed a Google Maps-type interface that can allow HIV researchers, policy-makers, or local governments to track the spread of the disease through a specific geographical location and time period. The findings could help researchers better understand the virus’ spread—and develop new tools to halt it. The same platform is also applied to other infectious diseases, including malaria.
But you don’t need to be a scientist yourself in order to benefit from Ozcan’s tool. His lab has developed cellphone attachments that could benefit almost everyone.
One cellphone-based device can detect possible allergens in food; an initial model designed to detect peanuts has cutting-edge sensitivity on the order of one-part-per-million. These tools aren’t commercially available yet, but if they ever arrive on the market, they could forever change the way we cope with allergies.
Other tools can sense harmful bacteria, like E. coli, in milk and water. The goal is to bring previously cost and location-prohibitive tests to new populations, as those who need them most are often least able to access them.
“This is the beginning of a revolution,” Ozcan says. “The technology will be adapted differently in different countries—but it will be adapted.”