Scientific Breakthrough Transforms Smartphones Into Cancer-Detecting Microscopes

New Smartphone Lens Can ID Cancer

By Kendra Pierre-Louis on May 5, 2014 4:37 PM EDT

Smartphones have emerged as a tool not just for selfies and communicating on the go, but also for science. Australian researchers recently invented a new kind of lens that transforms a smartphone camera into a microscope that's detailed enough to diagnose skin cancer.

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The breakthrough came accidentally. Researchers were attempting to synthesize polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicone based anti-foaming agent used in head lice remover, silly putty, breast implants and, oddly, Chicken McNuggets, when Dr. Steve Lee, the study's lead researcher, noticed that the droplets of PDMS hardened into lens like forms.  A quick conversation with a doctor friend raised Lee's awareness of the medical need for cheap high-quality lenses - and the ability for his discovery to fill that need.

Lee and his colleagues at the Australian National University developed a simple method to shape the PDMS into usable lenses. The inclusion of a clip-on attachment converts smartphones into dermatoscopes, a magnifying device used by dermatologists to diagnose skin cancer. While your traditional dematoscope goes for hundreds of dollars, the Australian researchers cobbled together their smartphone version for a mere two dollars.

This isn't the first time, however, that smart phones revealed their potential as tools for science. Sechi for example, a mobile app of the Secchi Disk project, encouragers mariners to join the global study of phytoplanton in the sea, while Global Soundscapes leverages your smartphone's sound recorder to among other things engage in biodiversity research while also increasing public awareness of the importance of our acoustic connection to nature.

Dr. Lee's discovery, and the use of smartphone supplemented science, has potential beneficial broad reaching applications. After all, world wide 20-percent of people have smartphone. 

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