Holomic LLC, a startup company seeking to commercialize a groundbreaking technology developed at UCLA that turns simple cell phones into powerful microscopes has joined UCLA's on-campus technology incubator program at the California NanoSystems Institute.
The novel medical-diagnostic imaging technology — invented by Aydogan Ozcan, an associate professor of electrical engineering at UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and his students — has the potential to bring better health care and monitoring to impoverished and underserved areas of the globe.
Holomic obtained an exclusive license for this technology from UCLA before joining the incubator program, which was set up three years ago to nurture early-stage research and help speed the commercial translation of new technologies developed at UCLA. At the incubator, Holomic has access to the world-class equipment in the CNSI's core lab facilities to pursue research-and-development work.
Ozcan's novel invention, which can easily be attached to a standard cell phone, eliminates the main size constraint from microscope imaging systems — the lens. Instead of magnifying a sample through a lens like a traditional microscope, the new system (called LUCAS, for Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging) images the sample using the cell phone's camera detector by illuminating it with a light-emitting diode (LED). Because LUCAS doesn't require a bulky lens, the only constraint on its size is the size of its compact electronic components.
Holomic is focusing on commercializing LUCAS as a mobile medical-diagnostic device.
"Cell phones have penetrated all corners of the planet," said Holomic CEO Neven Karlovac. "We plan to take advantage of their global reach to provide a product that will meet a real medical need."
By loading a fluid sample such as blood or saliva onto a slide and inserting the slide into a LUCAS-enabled device, the microparticles in the sample can be instantaneously counted. The counting occurs by means of holographic imaging; when the LED shines on the sample, the microparticles interfere with the light waves, creating holograms. The phone's camera detector then records these holograms, which contain quantified information about the microparticles, and the information is instantly processed using software custom-designed by Ozcan to identify and count microparticles such as pathogens or cells. The device can even distinguish healthy cells from diseased ones.
Using a cell phone this manner presents additional advantages over microscopes beyond size and flexibility. With a LUCAS-equipped cell phone, for example, the sample screening results can be wirelessly transmitted across great distances, allowing people in remote areas to keep their doctors apprised of their diseases. The device is being proposed as a way to screen for malaria and to track the progress of HIV/AIDS patients.
"After a person loads the sample slide into a LUCAS device, the system is automated, removing the need for a trained medical professional to analyze the sample," Ozcan said. "LUCAS devices have the ability to both expand the reach of health care and eliminate human error in sample analysis."
This might be especially useful in regions where hospitals, already understaffed, have to send employees out to rural areas to screen for malaria or track HIV/AIDS progress in patients.
To enable widespread use, LUCAS systems are compatible with a broad range of devices. The system can be attached to a standard cell phone, but if the phone does not have a camera or is too compact to modify, there are alternate designs, including a simple box with a sensing detector that can be plugged into a cell phone or laptop with a USB cord.
Though a sales price has not been set for LUCAS devices, the manufacturing cost is low enough to make them affordable to a large array of groups and individuals.
The launch of Holomic was aided by the Institute for Technology Advancement at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.
The California NanoSystems Institute is an integrated research facility located at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. Its mission is to foster interdisciplinary collaborations in nanoscience and nanotechnology; to train a new generation of scientists, educators and technology leaders; to generate partnerships with industry; and to contribute to the economic development and the social well-being of California, the United States and the world. The CNSI was established in 2000 with $100 million from the state of California. The total amount of research funding in nanoscience and nanotechnology awarded to CNSI members has risen to over $900 million. UCLA CNSI members are drawn from UCLA's College of Letters and Science, the David Geffen School of Medicine, the School of Dentistry, the School of Public Health and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. They are engaged in measuring, modifying and manipulating atoms and molecules — the building blocks of our world. Their work is carried out in an integrated laboratory environment. This dynamic research setting has enhanced understanding of phenomena at the nanoscale and promises to produce important discoveries in health, energy, the environment and information technology.