The researchers screened cultures of tuberculosis-infected cells with the device and detected the rod-shaped structures of the bacteria within the samples by using Auramine O dye, which stains the tuberculosis bacteria. The dye absorbs the blue light and then emits green fluorescence.
Breslauer and the group have high hopes for this technology, especially given the well-built infrastructure for wireless devices in many developing countries. Images could be analyzed in the field or transmitted to clinics for quick diagnosis when there is a shortage of doctors. Sigano agrees with the assessment: "I can definitely imagine this technology being useful in Third World countries," she says.
If the group is to turn the technology into a product, Breslauer remarks, it will need to overcome a few roadblocks—not the least of which is money. "Marketing a product to developing countries is challenging and essentially like nonprofit work," he says. "We need to find profitable applications if we are to get a company interested in advancing the technology."
One profitable application, Breslauer hopes, is using the cell phone to digitally index a person's medical history. People who require routine blood counts could take microscopic images of blood samples from home and e-mail them to the doctor or store them for later analysis. The group plans to begin field trials with the device in the fall.