by Karen Coppock
MIT's Technology Review highlighted an ultra inexpensive microscope - just $3 - that can be attached to a mobile phone to conduct basic medical diagnostics such as generating blood counts and identifying disease cells and bacteria.
The key to its low price is the use of software, rather than an expensive lens for the medical diagnostics. Aydogan Ozcan, an academic and entrepreneur at UCLA, is the brain behind this solution and he is forming a venture, Holoscope, to continue to refine and then commercialize this solution.
I was very pleased to see that one target market for this low-cost microscope is educational institutions. While in Uganda a few months ago, the research organization where I was doing some volunteer work (Conservation Through Public Health) lent its microscope to the local hospital and schools as neither had access to a microscope (not even the hospital!). Even the most resource-constrained schools may be able to find a way to come up with $3 and most teachers that we met - even in very rural areas - owned mobile phones.
One critique of the $3 microscope was that the images were not clear enough and that doctors would be hesitant to use them. Many public high schools in remote areas in Africa (and likely Latin America and Asia) have no microscopes, so I imagine that low-quality images are a tad better than no images. Regardless as to if this particular solution succeeds or not, the most important take-away is that engineers are beginning to design very low-end, low-cost solutions so that the masses in emerging markets (and low-income segments in developed countries) will be able to benefit from the power of mHealth applications.