An example of an image generated with confocal microscopy

Photo via dullhunk

One of the biggest challenges facing medical providers in developing countries is a lack of affordable medical equipment. Even basic devices like microscopes that help diagnose diseases are quite expensive. For example, fluorescent microscopes are priced at around $2,000 and require a power outlet -- money and energy that aren't easily accessed in developing areas. That's why the researchers and inventors working on affordable, portable supplies are doing work that could practically earn them sainthood. From postage stamp-sized paper that can diagnose diseases for pennies, to devices powered in part by the body heat of patients, the inventiveness within the medical community for shrinking the size and price of supplies is important and inspiring work. Especially when it comes to the basics, like microscopes.

Ars Technica writes, "Patients in many areas [are] required to travel to clinics, which is a journey that may be impossible to undertake immediately and may require several days of travel in each direction. In the meantime, the deadly bacillus is multiplying, making treatment more expensive and longer. There are, therefore, excellent reasons for developing a cheap, portable, battery-powered fluorescent microscope. This is exactly what researchers at Rice University describe in recent PloS One and SPIE proceedings."

One method of identifying pathogens in the bloodstream, such as tuberculosis, is to use fluorescent dyes and a fluorescent microscope. The researchers at Rice University have developed a way to use a standard LED flashlight as a solution for creating a portable fluorescent microscope for as cheap as $240 -- a far cry from the typical $2,000.

According to the researchers, their microscope achieves a resolution of 0.8 µm at 1000×magnification in fluorescence mode, and during testing, it was able to accurately show pathogens in 98.4% of the cases put under the glass. While not as crystal clear as the more expensive versions, it functions quite well, and is leaps and bounds better than no microscope at all.

Not only does it work well, but it can also be easily repaired since the standard LED flashlight is a readily available, cheap product. And as Ars Technica points out, "Even if the researchers are a bit optimistic on the price, it is still a net win for overburdened healthcare systems in developing world countries."

Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this