Holograms to detect bacteria

 6 Sep 2011 - By Omar Yesid Mariño+

A group of scientists have created a portable microscope which is able to detect even the  microbial proliferations that are really difficult to identify such as the E. coli bacterium. The device, which uses a laser ray, detects organisms in water and food.

3D Hologram Technology

A group of scientists in California (USA) have created a microscope which is able to detect bacteria such as E. Coli by using holograms.

The device uses a laser ray instead of the traditional lens and can identify microorganisms in water, food, and blood.

According to this group of scientists from the University of California  in Los Angeles (UCLA), the device can be produced with a low cost under $100 (70 Euros).

They also said that the images can be loaded in remote computers in order to carry out deeper analysis of microbes and get 3D images.

The details of this device were published in the Biomedical Optical Express journal.

The microscope has two operation modes: The Transmission mode where it can analyze liquid substances such as water and blood; and the Reflection mode that produces holographic images of denser things such as food.

“Transmission mode is great for looking at optically transparent things like cells or very thin slices,” explained Dr Karl Ryder of Leicester University’s Advanced Microscopy Centre in Leicester, England.

“However, if you want to look at more solid surfaces, you can’t use transmission mode, because the light wouldn’t get through.”

In Reflection mode, the microscope uses holographic projections to create a 3D image of the sample that is being analyzed.

“You take a laser and you split the beam in two using a mirror. Then you use one of these beams to illuminate your sample,” explained Ryder.

“You can then recombine these two beams using clever mathematics to build a 3D image of your object”, he added.

A key advantage of this design is that very cheap electronic components are needed, instead of those expensive and heavy lens of the regular microscopes.

“There are no optics at all in this system. They’ve made it really small, and they’re looking at small sample sizes, so you don’t need complex focusing,” pointed out Ryder.

The device uses digital photo sensors like those commonly used in other devices such as the iPhone or Blackberry smartphones whose production costs are under $15 per  unit.

Despite of the low cost, the researchers claim that the microscope is able to detect even the  microbial proliferations that are really difficult to identify such as the E. coli bacterium, which produces gastroenteritis and other diseases. This type of illnesses are very common in underdeveloped countries and are an epidemiological problem that could be treated with better efficacy thanks to this device.

“It’s a very challenging task to detect E. coli in low concentrations in water and food. This microscope could be part of a solution for field investigation,” pointed out Professor Aydogan Ozcan of the UCLA team.

According to this researcher, the device receives unprocessed data but its basic design allows to work with this information by using an external tool (a computer) with more computational power.

This way, a user who is in a rural area (for example) can send the data of the image by using a mobile phone, a PC, or even it’s possible to load the image source from a file on an Internet server.

Ozcan thinks that the microscope could be a very valuable tool for medical workers in developing countries.

“With just a small amount of training, doctors could use devices like these to improve healthcare in remote areas of the world with little access to diagnostic equipment”, the researcher said.

No doubt, this is a great advance over the existing methods in the field of clinical research with a very affordable price.

Medical Holography

The holography industry is growing rapidly and is been used to facilitate  several medical procedures;  for example, to monitor the neurological activity:

neurological hologram

Based on a technique in materials science, a team comprised of neurobiologists, psychiatrists, and experts in advanced imaging technologies from Switzerland’s CHUV and EPLF published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience where they confirm that now it’s possible to observe the neurological activity  in real time with a 3D visualization by using a Digital Holographic Microscopy (DHM). And the images have a good enough resolution, which in fact is 50 times greater than the one that is obtained through other techniques.

This technology has a huge potential to deal with a wide range of diseases, from intestinal diseases to Alzheimer and Parkinson.

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