Bulky and expensive, microscopes aren’t an easy thing for doctors to carry into the field — but they’re absolutely invaluable when screening for diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and anemia.

Now, thanks to the ingenuity of one engineer, health care professionals working in Third World countries may be able to make life-saving diagnoses far from the hospital or laboratory using an improvised cell phone microscope made with $10 worth of off-the-shelf parts.

Dr. Aydogan Ozcan, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and member of the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California, formed a company to commercialize the devices.

“This is an inexpensive way to eliminate a microscope and sample biological images with a basic cell phone camera instead,” Dr. Ozcan told The New York Times. “If you are in a place where getting to a microscope or medical facility is not straightforward, this is a really smart solution.”

The company has produced a variety of designs that can be added to different kinds of cell phones.

One prototype uses a phone’s camera sensor to analyze a blood sample slide and send it wirelessly to a hospital. The modified phone can detect abnormal cell shapes or an increase in white blood cells.

Magnification is done electronically using LED lights to create holograms, eliminating the need for lenses.

“This makes it possible for ordinary people to gather medical information in the field just by using a cell phone adapted with cheap parts,” says M. Fatih Yanik, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

DIY cell phone microscope could be life-saving tool
DIY microscope made with $10 of off-the-shelf parts could be a valuable medical tool in developing countries.