One reason scientists pay close attention to DNA sequence is that it can help them identify a gene or a mutation that may cause a disease. But the analysis typically requires sending patients’ cell and tissue samples to well-equipped labs, which in many cases are located far away. This is a particular challenge in settings with limited resources — in developing countries and underdeveloped communities, for example — where health care workers do not always have the tools or the expertise to conduct DNA sequencing analysis.
Now, a smartphone-based microscope developed by researchers at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and at Sweden’s Stockholm University and Uppsala University could make the mutation testing accessible to health care workers even in remote locations, without the need for large, expensive lab equipment. The device can image and analyze specific DNA sequences and genetic mutations in tumor cells and tissue samples without having to first extract DNA from them.
To use the device, a technician places a tissue sample in a small container. The mobile phone microscope records multi-mode images of the processed sample and feeds data to an algorithm, which automatically analyzes the images to read the sequenced DNA bases of the extracted tumor DNA, or to find genetic mutations directly inside the tumor tissue. This mobile microscope can detect even small amounts of cancer cells among a large group of normal cells.
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