A Wearable Microscope That Can Measure Fluorescent Dyes Through Skin

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UCLA researchers have teamed up with a group at Verily Life Sciences and have come up with a mobile microscope that can detect and monitor the fluorescent biomarkers under the skin with a high level of sensitivity. This tool is very much helpful in tracking the biochemical reactions for medical diagnostics and therapy.

This tool is very light in weight around one-tenth of a pound and is enough for a person to carry around his bicep. This tool can be used for a continuous monitoring of a patient at home or at the care-taking service center. Normally, the fluorescent biomarkers are used in detecting cancer and drug delivery among other medical therapies.

The problem that aroused in this process was that the collagen, melanin, and other biological structures emit natural light and this process was termed as auto-fluorescence. This problem has been investigated to solve using different sensing systems. Most of them turned out to be expensive enough to be used in a cost-effective wearable imaging system.


Initially, to test this tool, artificial fluorescent objects were added under the skin that mimics the human skin in all the required aspects, though it was quiet a challenging job for the researchers to carry out. For this purpose, researchers designed a tissue phantom which was an artificially created material that resembled the human skin in aspects like auto-fluorescence, absorption, and scattering. In this process, the target fluorescent dye solution was injected into a micro-well with a quantity of about one-hundredth of a microlitre, which is thinner than a human hair, was implanted into the tissue phantom half a millimeter to 2 millimeters from the surface and this would be deep enough to reach blood and other tissue fluids.

The researchers measured the fluorescent dye with the help of the wearable microscope using a laser to hit the skin at an angle, that was created by Ozcan and his team. The wearable microscope then captured the fluorescent image at the surface of the skin which was then uploaded to a computer where it was processed with the help of a custom-designed algorithm, which digitally separated the target fluorescent signal from the auto-fluorescence of the skin, at a very sensitive parts-per-billion level of detection.

Ozcan noted that they can use different tiny sensors inside the skin next to one another, and through their imaging system, they can tell them apart. Also, they can monitor all these embedded sensors under the skin in parallel and can understand the misalignments of the wearable imager and correct it to continuously quantify a panel of biomarkers.

This wearable device can also be used in future to detect and monitor continuously the chronic diseases through the skin with the help of an implantable fluorescent dye.

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