US$240 TB-detecting microscope on par with $40,000 devices

$240 TB Microscope

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.3 million people worldwide died from tuberculosis in 2008.

It’s definitely a disease to be taken seriously, so when people in remote locations are being tested for it, it’s best if they don’t have to wait for their samples to be processed at a distant lab. That’s why medical device designer Andrew Miller, when he was still an undergraduate at Houston’s Rice University, developed the portable, battery-operated Global Focus fluorescence microscope. In a paper published this Wednesday, Miller and his co-authors described how the US$240 Global Focus is able to detect TB-positive sputum smears just as well as laboratory microscopes worth over $40,000.

Miller built the original 1,000X microscope last year, as his bioengineering senior design project. His goal was to make a portable microscope that could be used in developing countries, where there was limited access to lab equipment and/or electricity. He built it from off-the-shelf parts, enclosed in a rugged plastic shell created with a 3D printer. Light was provided by a top-mounted LED flashlight. This year, it won him Rice’s Hershel M. Rich Invention Award, an annual engineering award presented to faculty or students for original inventions. This is the first time it has ever been presented to an undergraduate project.

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