These Cancer Cells Were Spotted With a DSLR

Illustration for article titled These Cancer Cells Were Spotted With a DSLR

This is an image of a tissue sample that doctors could use to detect cancerous cells. It's crisp, it's clear, it could save a life. And it was taken with a $400 Olympus E-330.

Using a consumer-grade camera for diagnostic imaging is a pretty amazing feat, announced just today by biomedical engineers from Rice University. And the process is one that could be replicated easily enough all over the world:

The team captured images of cells with a small bundle of fiber-optic cables attached to a $400 Olympus E-330 camera. When imaging tissues, Richards-Kortum's team applied a common fluorescent dye that caused cell nuclei in the samples to glow brightly when lighted with the tip of the fiber-optic bundle.


Cancerous and pre-cancerous cells are generally deformed enough that they can be spotted even on the camera's LCD screen.

The next step: writing software that would help general practitioners identify malignant cells without having to be trained pathologists.

What makes the research so amazing is that it's so replicable and affordable. Your next doctor's visit probably won't involve a digital camera—if it does, creepy!—but anything that makes diagnostic imaging easier for developing countries has the potential to save countless lives. That's something to be excited about. [Rice University via Futurity]

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This is what I do for a living. Doing cell imaging with standard off the shelf, inexpensive cameras has been going on in budget strapped labs for many years. The software to identify objects in a field reliably has been around for a long time as well. It's just proprietary and always getting better. I'm of the school of practice of either crude selection or 'handmade' selection. I don't trust the algorithms enough. Even with inexpensive means of doing inspection, no one wants to get on board with less physician responsibility. I'm not sure where I'd stand on that.

But the trick part of this must be the illumination. These probes only fluoresce when excited with light of a narrow band of the spectrum. Being able to deliver it in a flexible way (in more ways than one!) must be their point of novelty, which I think is being lost in translation. LED illumination and fiber optic illumination is great, but it's much more expensive than a standard arc lamp hooked up to an appropriate microscope. The detector in lab grade cameras is not all that different than an off the shelf cheap camera. Many are around 1 MP or under. Research cameras often just trade resolution for sensitivity. In cells that don't need to be preserved from short term phototoxicity or with probes that are used in ways that you don't need to be concerned with photobleaching a low budget camera with longer exposures can make up for a lack of sensitivity.