Over the last couple of centuries,microscopy is one of the oldest applications of modern optics which has resulted in several significant breakthroughs such as the discovery of the microorganisms, cells, and new kind of drugs. A microscope simply provides an information channel for recovering the spatial properties of a specimen of interest. The design of appropriate lenses or imaging apparatus within the microscope is an important way to improve the quality of this information channel from better images. Another means of improving the image quality in microscopy is to utilize additional known information regarding the sample or the imaging set-up. One example is the use of deconvolution techniques that assume prior characteristics of the object about the imaging properties (such as the point-spread function) of the microscope to digitally improve the quality of the image. Similarly, newer high resolution microscopy approaches,such as structured illumination microscopy, near-field scanning optical microscope (NSOM) , stimulated emission depletion microscopy (STED), stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) , or photo-activated localization microscopy (PALM), utilize additional information about the illumination and/or the emission/collection path of the microscope to significantly improve the image quality in different applications. Therefore, we can simply view microscopy as a means of collecting and putting together different sources of information regarding the spatial properties of a sample.
With this strategy, we can extend the boundaries of optical imaging to new dimensions beyond what we are accustomed to seeing. We intend to develop a novel high-throughput and low-cost POC imaging system based on commercially available and inexpensive cellular phones which are already in the hands of over 1 billion people worldwide. This novel POC system will require no additional lenses or microscope objectives. Therefore, it permits a compact and cost-effective imaging platform that can be useful especially in resource-limited settings for cytometry and disease diagnosis applications.Some of the prioritized applications are listed below.
First, our POC imaging system can be used to monitor HIV patients in resource-scarce settings such as in the remote villages of Africa and Thailand. For HIV patients, a CD4 cell count of less than 200 cells/µL of whole blood is one of clinical indicators for AIDS diagnosis. Therefore, our POC system can answer this urgent unmet clinical need for a compact, cost-effective, and disposable diagnostic tool to increase access for HIV patients for better disease management and treatment outcome,especially in developing countries.
Second, it has been well known that the morphology of the RBCs change significantly with the infection and development of Plasmodium falciparum. This is the most virulent species of the human malaria and is responsible for about 1-3 million deaths each year. The morphological changes induced knob-like structures which appear on the surface of infected RBCs. Our POC imaging system will be able to detect surface morphological changes of the RBCs from the irunique structural details for a better disease staging and treatment outcome.Third,in tissue engineering, adult stem cells residing in a number of tissues are significant to cell renewal and repair. Various different tissues have been reported so far to host adult stem cells such as brain, bone marrow, peripheral blood, blood vessels, skin, and liver. One complication associated with most of these adult stem cell populations is that they exist in extremely low numbers within a heterogeneous population of cells, which makes their identification and characterization a challenging task. Since the successful use of adult stem cells in tissue engineering will involve the use of freshly isolated stem cells without in vitro expansion, a highly accurate and high-throughput method provided by our POC system will help in identifying the target stem cell type from a heterogeneous tissue.