DVD drive converted into low cost analytical microscope

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A research team in Sweden has converted a commercial DVD drive into a laser scanning microscope that can provide on-the-spot HIV testing and other analytics.

Aman Russom, senior lecturer at the School of Biotechnology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, said the device can analyse blood and perform cellular imaging with one-micrometre resolution.

The breakthrough is said to create the possibility of an inexpensive and simple-to-use tool that could have far-reaching benefits in health care in the developing world.

‘With an ordinary DVD player, we have created a cheap analytical tool for DNA, RNA, proteins and even entire cells,’ said Russom in a statement. The so-called ‘Lab-on-DVD’ technology makes it possible to complete an HIV test in just a few minutes, he said.

In a proof of concept demonstration, the researchers collected cell-type CD4 + from blood and visualised it using the DVD reader technology. Enumeration of these cells using flow cytometry is now standard in HIV testing, but the practice has been limited in developing countries.

The Lab-on-DVD is said to reap 30 years of research and development on optical storage technology to create an alternative to flow cytometry, the standard equipment for hospitals.

Flow cytometry units can cost upwards of $30,000, excluding maintenance. By contrast, mass-produced Lab-on-DVD units could be made available for less than $200, Russom said.

Unlike the bulky and technically-complex flow cytometry instruments, a Lab-on-DVD would be portable and require less training to operate.

‘The low cost of the technology makes it suitable as a diagnostic and analytical tool in clinical practice close to the patient,’ Russom said. ‘And because it delivers extremely fast analysis, the patient does not need to go home and wait for a response. They can get it right on the first visit to a doctor.’

The research was partly funded by the EU Seventh Framework Programme, FP7. The researchers’ work has been highlighted by Nature Photonics.