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Lens-free microscope lets almost anyone spot cancer

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High-powered microscopes are useful for spotting cancer and other diseases in cells, but they're expensive and complicated. Your local physicians probably won't have a microscope on hand, and you'll probably need at least some skill to use one. However, UCLA scientists have developed a lens-free microscope that could put this tissue scanning power in the hands of many more people. The device creates a holograph-like image of your sample using a CCD or CMOS sensor (like that from your camera) to detect shadow patterns cast by a light source, and reconstructs them in software to present what you'd actually see. The result is a microscope that's just as effective as its conventional optical brethren, but should also be much cheaper and simpler.

The tech won't be truly ready for a while. As senior author Aydogan Ozcan tells the LA Times, there's a lot of spit-and-polish necessary before the software is truly easy to use. Should everything go according to plan, though, it could do a lot to make cancer detection more accessible. At a minimum, it would let medical staff in small or remote offices get a snapshot of your cells, rather than having to send you to specialists. And ideally, the lensless telescope will help both in education and "citizen-science" activities -- you might not diagnose yourself, but you could contribute data to a large research project without leaving home.

[Image credit: Aydogan Ozcan]

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