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Wearable microscope paves the way for at-home cancer detection, drug monitoring

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Ozcan Research Group/UCLA

Fluorescent biomarkers are a popular medical diagnostic tool, and they are about to get significantly better. As published in ACS Nano journal, a team of researchers from Verily Life Sciences and UCLA have developed a portable microscope that is capable of detecting these fluorescent biomarkers inside the skin with a high level of sensitivity and accuracy. This breakthrough could revolutionize cancer detection and drug delivery, especially for patients who require constant care.

Unlike existing imaging technologies which require sophisticated optics and bulky equipment, the UCLA microscope weighs less than two ounces, and is small enough that it can be worn easily by patients, a feature that encourages more frequent and long-term use. The microscope was developed and tested in the laboratory using an artificial material called tissue phantom that simulates the optical properties of skin. The team added a small amount of a fluorescent dye to a well and placed the well approximately 0.5 to 2 millimeters away from the tissue phantom sample. The distance was selected to mimic the location of blood under the skin in a patient’s body.

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Researchers then measured the fluorescence using a laser and the wearable microscope, which captured an image of the fluorescence and analyzed it in order to remove background noise. Researchers were not only able to easily detect individual fluorescent molecules using this system, they also were able to distinguish between different biomarkers, even when they were placed close together. In addition, these different biomarkers could be monitored in parallel, allowing researchers to track multiple items at the same time.

The team hopes to improve the technology so it can be used for on-the-fly monitoring in a doctor’s office or for continuous monitoring at home by a patient.