A team of researchers at UCLA has developed a lens-free microscope that, they say, can be used to detect the presence of cancer or other cell-level abnormalities with the same accuracy as larger and more expensive optical microscopes. This could lead to cheaper, more portable technology to examine tissue, blood, and other biomedical specimens, especially in remote areas and in cases where large numbers of samples need to be examined quickly.

This invention is the first lens-free microscope that can be used for high-throughput 3D tissue imaging, they said. The device works by using a laser or light-emitting-diode to illuminate a tissue or blood sample that has been placed on a slide and inserted into the device. A sensor array on a microchip captures and records the pattern of shadows created by the sample.

The device processes the patterns as a series of holograms, forming 3D images of the specimen and giving medical personnel a virtual depth-of-field view. An algorithm color codes the reconstructed images, making the contrasts in the samples more apparent than they would be in the holograms and making any abnormalities easier to detect.

In a blind test, a board-certified pathologist analyzed sets of specimen images that had been created by the lens-free technology and by conventional microscopes. Diagnoses made using the lens-free microscopic images proved accurate 99 percent of the time.

In addition, the microscope produces images that are several hundred times larger in area, or field of view, than those captured by conventional optical microscopes, which makes it possible to process specimens more quickly.