Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Combating Disease: Improved smartphone microscope brings single-virus detection to remote locations

November 25, 2013

smartphone microscope
An advance in smartphone-based imaging could help physicians in resource-limited locations monitor how well their patients’ infection treatments are working.
Credit: American Chemical Society


Scientists are reporting an advance in smartphone-based imaging that could help physicians in far-flung and resource-limited locations monitor how well treatments for infections are working by detecting, for the first time, individual viruses. Their study on the light-weight device, which converts the phone into a powerful mini-microscope, appears in the journal ACS Nano.


Today’s solution is the first technological advance that transforms a smartphone into a powerful mini-microscope that can detect individual viruses. The tool could help physicians in resource-limited locations monitor how well medical treatments are working. The report appears in the journal ACS Nano.

The researchers note that conventional imaging techniques for detecting disease-causing bacteria and viruses rely on expensive microscopes with multiple lenses and other bulky optical components.

In places with limited resources, doctors have few options for determining how well a treatment is working. To address the need for more portable and less expensive medical equipment, researchers have developed light-weight, compact microscopes that can be fitted onto smartphones to detect microbes or to check patients’ eyesight.

Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D., and colleagues set out to build further on these advances.

Here is Ozcan, who is with the University of California, Los Angeles, and is the principal investigator on the paper:

 “We developed a field-portable imaging system that detects individual viruses in a fluid sample, a measure that can be used to monitor the effectiveness of a treatment. We successfully tested the system by imaging fluorescently labeled human cytomegalovirus. This pathogen is a member of the herpes virus family that can be life-threatening in patients with low immunity. It’s also one of the leading causes of virus-associated birth defects.”

The scientists conclude that the microscope, which weighs little more than a baseball, holds significant promise for point-of-care applications in remote or resource-limited environments.

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

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Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D.
Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles