Wearable microscope detects fluorescent biomarkers in skin

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Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and American company Verily Life Sciences have designed a wearable microscope that can detect and monitor fluorescent biomarkers inside the skin.

The device will be an important tool used in tracking various biochemical reactions for medical diagnostics and therapy. The research was published in the journal ACS Nano on 13 September.

Fluorescent biomarkers are often used in detecting cancers or delivering drugs in certain medical therapies. Although technologies already exist to detect these markers, it is both expensive and difficult to reduce their size enough to make them wearable.

The Californian researchers have made this possible with their new microscope. Weighing less than 45g, it is both small and light enough to be worn around the bicep or other parts of the body. The technology could therefore feature heavily in continuous patient monitoring at home or at point-of-care settings in the future.

The research was published in ACS Nano and was led by Aydogan Ozcan, UCLA’s chancellor’s professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering, and Vasiliki Demas of Verily Life Sciences.

The microscope designed by Ozcan and his team detects fluorescent markers by using a laser to hit the targeted area of skin at an angle. The fluorescent image at the surface of the skin is then captured by the wearable microscope and uploaded to a computer, where it is processed using a custom-designed algorithm. The target fluorescent signal is digitally separated from the autofluorescence that naturally occurs in the skin at a sensitivity of parts per billion.

‘We can place various tiny bio-sensors inside the skin next to each other, and through our imaging system, we can tell them apart,’ said Ozcan. ‘We can monitor all these embedded sensors inside the skin in parallel, even understand potential misalignments of the wearable imager and correct it to continuously quantify a panel of biomarkers.’

This computational imaging framework might also be used in the future to monitor various chronic diseases through the skin using an implantable or injectable fluorescent dye.

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Verily Life Sciences