New high-tech microscope for cheap disease testing

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London | Updated: November 25, 2014 4:25:04 PM

A researcher in the UK has developed a high-tech microscope that can make expensive tests.


A researcher in the UK has developed a high-tech microscope that can make expensive tests for measuring everything from sperm motility to cancer diagnosis hundreds of thousands of pounds cheaper.

Adam Lynch, a PhD student from Brunel University London, created his own inverted microscope by adapting a cheap instrument he bought online to save himself time and money.

The tool is used to measure cell motility – how fast cells move from one place to another – but the high-quality equipment, used to automatically test multiple samples, can stretch to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Adam has a cut-price version for a study to understand if a snail’s immune system responds to chemical pollutants present in the water, which might influence the levels of transmission of Schistosome parasites from snails to humans.

Adam’s team needed the inverted microscope to see whether immune cell behaviour was affected by polluted water. But they needed more than one machine to be able to run multiple tests.

He estimates the cost of his system to be around 160 pounds but thinks it could be made even cheaper. “When you’re looking at motility in cells you’re only interested in the data – how fast the cell gets from A to B means more than a high-resolution image,” Adam said.

Even with a high-cost microscope you will reduce the image down so that it’s just a black dot on the screen moving against a white background so that it’s easier for a computer to read,” said Adam.

Adam realised a USB microscope he had bought online could be clamped upside down on a table to produce the same images as the much more expensive inverted microscope.

“It worked ok as I could sort of see cells, which are about 50 micrometres long, but the images weren’t fantastic,” he said.  “But people don’t realise that you can quite easily make a high-magnification microscope, it’s just a matter of getting a lens and the right angle of lighting, so when I turned off the lighting that came with the instrument and used external lights I found I could see the cells quite clearly,” Adam added.

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