Canadian Researchers Develop Low-Cost, Lens-Free Light-Field Microscope; Could Make Anatomic Pathology Labs Portable and More Affordable
Second-generation spectral fusion microscope captures light-field images in full color using artificial intelligence and mathematical models of light to develop large-scale 3D images
Researchers in Canada have developed an inexpensive, lens-free microscope that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and mathematical models of light to develop three-dimensional (3D) images. This invention has the potential to make the clinical pathology laboratory portable and affordable. And the advancement could improve access to anatomic pathology services in remote regions and less developed countries that cannot afford conventional microscopic diagnostic equipment.
New Microscope a Boon to Pathology Laboratories Worldwide
This spectral light-fusion microscope, developed by a pair of researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, uses second-generation spectral light-fusion technology for capturing light-field images in full color.
“The several-hundred-dollar microscope has no lens, and uses artificial intelligence and mathematical models of light to develop 3D images at a large scale,” states a University of Waterloo news release.
The new microscope’s low price point provides a major advantage over larger traditional microscopes that require a skilled technician to electronically “stitch” together multiple images using a machine costing several hundred thousand dollars to get the same 3D effect.
“In medicine, we know that pathology is the gold standard in helping to analyze and diagnose patients, but that standard is difficult to come by in areas that can’t afford it. This technology has the potential to make pathology labs more affordable for communities that currently don’t have access to conventional equipment,” Associate Professor of Engineering Alexander Wong, PhD, PEng, said in the University of Waterloo news release.
Wong, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Medical Imaging, and Systems Design Engineer Farnoud Kazemzadeh, PhD, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Environmental Bio-Detection Products and Adjunct Professor at University of Waterloo, led the research.
“Currently the technology required to operate a pathology lab is quite expensive and is largely restricted to places such as Europe and North America, which can afford them,” Kazemzadeh noted in the news release. “It would be interesting to see what a more affordable mobile pathology lab could achieve.”
Wong and Kazemzadeh described the first generation of their instrument in a research paper published in Nature Scientific Reports. In that paper, the pair demonstrated for the first time that laser light-field fusion phase contrast microscopy could detect particles at nanometer resolutions.
“We introduced a wide-field lens-free on-chip phase contrast microscopy instrument capable of detecting particles at the nanometer resolution. The instrument does not require hologram magnification, specialized sample preparation, or the use of synthetic aperture- or lateral shift-based techniques to accomplish detection of nanoparticles,” they wrote.
The researchers understand the potential of their invention to expand access to pathology. They describe the microscope as “extremely simple and economical to implement, allowing for democratization and proliferation of such systems at every level of healthcare, industry, education, or research.”
The researchers’ new second-generation device can construct nanometer-resolution images with an ultra-wide field-of-view. “The microscope captures light fields that can be analyzed using the mathematical models of light and artificial intelligence to construct 3D images that are around 100 times larger than the 2D images captured by traditional microscopes,” reported The Engineer, a United Kingdom-based publication.
Shaping the Future of Clinical Laboratories
The spectral light-fusion microscope is one example of research teams exploring how to use different technologies for the assessment of human tissue. Another example that we covered in a previous Dark Daily e-briefing involved the development of a lens-free smartphone microscope by UCLA researchers. That microscope produces holographic images of tissue samples that enable pathologists to view cancer and other abnormalities at the cellular level with the same accuracy as larger and more expensive optical microscopes.
The discipline of pathology and laboratory medicine is evolving to embrace technologies that were science fiction yesterday, but today are science fact. These technologies will continue to shape the clinical laboratory industry for years to come.
—Andrea Downing Peck