As the prevalence of smartphones grows, so do efforts by researchers and startups to transform the handsets into devices that might one day be used in developing nations. Now a team of researchers at UC Davis has tweaked an iPhone to work as a tool for diagnosing blood-related health conditions or diseases.
The researchers inserted a ball lens, a finely ground glass sphere that acts as low-powered magnifying glasses, into a rubber sheet and then taped the sheet over the smartphone’s camera. Combined with the camera, the lens is capable of resolving features on the order of 1.5 microns, small enough to identify different types of blood cells. Digital imaging software was used to correct any distortions and stitch together overlapping tiny in-focus areas of each image to create a single larger picture.
A MSNBC story posted yesterday explains how the re-engineered iPhone may prove useful to health-care providers working in remote locations:
The ball lenses can already reveal signs of iron deficiency anemia or the deformed red blood cells of sickle cell anemia, but larger lenses could help diagnose skin disease. Better software might count and indentify blood cells for an even wider range of diseases.
By swapping in a spectrometer for the lens, researchers can also use iPhones to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood and diagnose diseases based on their chemical markers. Spectrometers break up light into separate wavelengths – similar to how a glass prism separates white light into rainbow colors – so that researchers can identify the chemical “fingerprint” created by molecules absorbing certain wavelengths.