A lot can be learned from simply counting the cells found in a sample of blood or water; the rub is that it requires either a lengthy and complex manual process with an expensive microscope or a a quicker process with an even more expensive flow cytometer. Now, UCLA researchers have devised a compact system that scans samples with a cheap CCD digicam sensor to quickly spot and count 100,000 different kinds of cells in a sample. Please note my resistance here to the general tendency to call any type of advanced portable medical scanner a real-life tricorder, but that’s kind of what it’s like.
The device works by placing the sample in close proximity to the sensor and beaming a strong light through it. The sensor doesn’t take a scientifically useful photo, but rather looks for each cell’s unique light diffraction signature to spot and count it. It compares each signature to its onboard cell database to distinguish healthy and infected cells of many different types almost instantly.
Not only does the system not require a lens or any particularly expensive components at all-the computer processing required is minimal and can be handled by a smartphone, making this incredibly ideal for bringing advanced medical diagnostics to places that currently don’t have them.