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Ohio State researchers invent pocket-size pathology equipment

The medical device uses a smartphone camera. Credit: Nick Roll | Campus Editor

Ohio State researchers have invented a portable, smartphone-based scanner that could help doctors better examine and analyze tissue samples at laboratories to determine causes and effects of diseases.

Yi Zhao, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Hanyang Huang, a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering, said the new scanner could provide pathologists a better, high-resolution image of the tissue samples than a traditional microscope, furthering benefits for the patients while promoting the application of digital pathology.

“Many surgical decisions are based on the diagnosis by pathologists,” Zhao said. “Our device could greatly help them, and increase their productivity and accuracy.”

Huang said digital pathology is used to obtained, manage and interpret the information that is generated from a digitized glass slide, like an image.

“The digitized specimen allows faster consultation and more accurate diagnosis than viewing a physical slide under a microscope,” Huang said. “It enables even better and faster diagnosis, prognosis, prediction and management for cancer.”

In more than 100 interviews with pathologists and related experts, Zhao and Huang said they found the limited field of view of microscopes to be the main issue pathologists have with modern analysis tools. It usually takes a long time for them to get a full image of the sample.

Zhao pointed out that as researchers zoom in more with a microscope, they are viewing a smaller area.

“If you don’t see any indication of cancer cells in this certain area, that doesn’t mean there’s no cancer cell outside this area,” Zhao said.

The new device uses a smartphone’s camera to automatically capture every field of view of the entire sample and stitch all the images to make a whole image.

“The device enables us to form the big picture of the sample without moving around the lens and jointing every small piece together,” Zhao said.

With these useful functions, the technique brings an expensive price, which limits its accessibility.

“There is a digital pathology system available at the Department of Pathology at the OSU, the price of such device could range from ten-thousands to one million,” Huang said. “In contrast, our product is of lower cost with a technology of liquid lenses.”

Instead of using solid glass as the reflective surface, Zhao and Huang used fluid and combined it with elastic material. By pumping the fluid, the shape will change to magnify the image, which can reach up to 40 times the magnification, Zhao said.

“We estimate our device could save up to 80 percent (of the cost) compared to the general commercial slide scanners,” Zhao said. “But we can still provide the same comparable functions.”

Zhao and Huang said they believe this innovation could not only assist the pathologists, but also benefit the patients.

Pathologists will usually consult colleagues for second opinions to guarantee the accuracy of the diagnosis by sending the sample. The process is slow and there is a possibility of damaging the sample, Zhao said.

“By simply putting the sample in our device and taking a picture with your own cellphone camera, we can get a high resolution image,” Huang said. “Most importantly, we can send it through internet, which is much easier, faster and saves a lot of time for the patient.”

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