Researchers have used 3D printing to make an inexpensive and portable high-resolution microscope that is small and robust enough to use in the field or at the bedside. The high-resolution 3D images provided by the instrument could potentially be used to detect diabetes, sickle cell disease, malaria, and other diseases.
“This new microscope doesn’t require any special staining or labels and could help increase access to low-cost medical diagnostic testing,” said research team leader Bahram Javidi from the University of Connecticut. “This would be especially beneficial in developing parts of the world where there is limited access to health care and few high-tech diagnostic facilities.”
The researchers describe their new microscope, which is based on digital holographic microscopy, in The Optical Society (OSA) journal Optics Letters. The portable instrument produces 3D images with twice the resolution of traditional digital holographic microscopy, which is typically performed on an optical table in a laboratory. In addition to biomedical applications, it could also be useful for research, manufacturing, defense and education.
“The entire system consists of 3D printed parts and commonly found optical components, making it inexpensive and easy to replicate,” said Javidi. “Alternative laser sources and image sensors would further reduce the cost, and we estimate a single unit could be reproduced for several hundred dollars. Mass production of the unit would also substantially reduce the cost.”
From the lab to field ready
In traditional digital holographic microscopy, a digital camera records a hologram produced from interference between a reference light wave and light coming from the sample. A computer then converts this hologram into a 3D image of the sample. Although this microscopy approach is useful for studying cells without any labels or dyes, it typically requires a complex optical setup and a stable environment free of vibrations and temperature fluctuations that can introduce noise in the measurements. For this reason, digital holographic microscopes are generally only found in laboratories.
Image courtesy of osa.org