An ingenious microscope could change how quickly disease is
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When Manu Prakash visited on a recent trip, “There were places where the technicians couldn’t stop to talk to me, because they were busy working, which could last for eight to 10 hours per day,” he says.

An Indian-born biophysicist who works at Stanford University, Prakash is best known for creating the Foldscope—a $1 pocket microscope that magnifies objects by more than 2,000 times and can be folded from a single sheet of paper embedded with microoptics. But on this trip, while field-testing the Foldscope, Prakash realized that being cheap wasn’t enough. His devices also needed to be fast.

So Prakash and his colleague Hongquan Li built a fancier microscope—a high-speed, malaria-detecting device that they’ve called Octopi. It can automaticallyscan entire blood-smeared slides for malaria parasites, using a neural network trained on more than 20,000 existing images. Octopi works off a phone charger. It analyzes slides at speeds that are 120 times faster than traditional microscopy. Weighing fewer than seven pounds, it’s portable. And at a do-it-yourself cost of $250 to $500, it’s cheaper than many basic microscopes or other automated slide-analyzing devices.

Prakash has spent his career building extremely cheap medical devices that can be used in some of the poorest parts of the world. Besides the Foldscope, he developed a $10 skin patch that can detect parasitic worms. And he developed a 20-cent, hand-powered centrifuge that can spin medical samples at up to 125,000 revolutions per minute, achieving what costly, bulky, and expensive machines can do using little more than paper, string, and tape.

The Octopi name has many origins. It’s a very loose acronym, which stands for “open configurable high-throughput platform for infectious diseases.” The microscope is very versatile, in the way that octopuses are. The “pi” ending, though the wrong plural form for octopus, is a nod to Raspberry Pi, a simple computer designed for use in developing countries. And, “my kids are of the age where they love octopuses,” Prakash says.

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Wish we can have very high resolution imaging powered by AI so that it becomes like a microscope doing a virtual histopathology and obviating the need for biopsies, e.g., in IPF, or NAFLD or CKD stage 2 (quiescent phase). In IPF sometimes the biopsy aggravates the disease.
Aug 23, 2019Like1