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Cell phone-based sensor spots dangerous bacteria

Video transcript:

Microscopy has been the gold standard for looking at microscale things, like cells and bacteria, for several centuries. That’s why it’s important to have a tool that can do microscopy, which can then be tailored to be specific to, for instance, salmonella or E.coli or other species.

Detection of bacteria in pathogens, especially in drinking water and food is a very important thing. We lose close to two million people globally for water-related diseases. Most of these outbreaks are happening in resource-poor countries. While recently we have similar problems in the United States and Europe, so it’s very important to be able to detect these bacteria with high sensitivity, especially for field conditions.

And our recent work actually used some spatial microfluid devices that had surface chemistry on them to specifically capture E.coli and image them and quantify them using a cell phone attachment. We’ve used a technology like the cellphone itself, which already has a lot of the hardware and the software that we require for capturing such images that can quantify E.coli particles.

That’s why the cost reduction of such a platform that’s running on a cell phone is mostly relying on the fact that we have billions of cell phones that are now available to us. More than 70% of these cell phones are actually being used in developing countries.

And if you look at the connectivity, close to 90% of everyone on Earth is covered by some sort of signal. So, this connectivity is providing us unique opportunities to conduct microscopy or other advanced technologies on the cell phone, wherever the cell phones work. So, it’s going to be a quick tool for the field worker to be specifically capturing these E.coli particles in drinking water or other bodily fluids. In terms of detection of bacteria on the cell phone, this is the first of its kind.

The current status of these technologies that we are developing at UCLA is that we have some NIH and Army and Department of Defense funding to push these technologies to field use, as well as we have a commercialization process for the same technology, so that we can have mass production of these technologies to be used by public and health care workers in large quantities.