A compact microscope invented at Rice University is proving its potential to impact global health.
In a paper published online today in the journal PLoS ONE, Rice alumnus Andrew Miller and co-authors show that his portable, battery-operated fluorescence microscope, which costs $240, stacks up nicely against devices that retail for as much as $40,000 in diagnosing signs of tuberculosis.
Miller and colleagues at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute (TMHRI) analyzed samples from 19 patients suspected of having TB, an infectious disease that usually attacks the lungs and can be fatal if not treated. His instrument, called the Global Focus microscope, performed just as well as the lab's reference-standard fluorescence microscope. The team reported similar findings were obtained in 98.4 percent of the samples tested.
Miller created the 2.5-pound microscope as his senior design project last year, working with faculty in Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies. The goal was to make an inexpensive, portable and highly capable microscope that could be used in clinics in developing countries that have limited access to lab equipment and may lack electricity.
The microscope was built with off-the-shelf parts encased in a rugged plastic shell Miller created with a 3-D printer at Rice's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK). Light to power the 1,000-times magnification microscope comes from a top-mounted LED flashlight.
The Global Focus microscope won this year's Hershel M. Rich Invention Award, which is presented annually by Rice Engineering Alumni to a Rice faculty member or student who has developed an original invention. It was the first undergraduate project to win the award.
Miller graduated from Rice in 2009 with a degree in bioengineering and works full time as a medical device designer for Thoratec, a San Francisco company that makes ventricular assist devices. Part time, he contin
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