ioLight Pocket Microscope

A handheld pocket-sized and battery-powered digital microscope with up to 1µm resolution

The Challenge

Diagnostic laboratories in developing nations, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa, are often tight strapped in their medical budgets. Often remotely located on fields and farms, medical treatment centres have small laboratories with limited ability to afford or house large or expensive equipment, and this scenario plays out in both human and veterinary diagnostic laboratories.
Farmer in Africa

As a result, for certain tests, there are often long delays due to the sample needing to be shipped to a different facility; which can also increase costs and lead to delays in disease diagnosis which negatively impacts health outcomes in both human and veterinary patients. The use of conventional light microscopes as a diagnostic tool often requires a facility with electricity and a skilled laboratory technologist, and as such may not fit the purpose in situations where mobility and long distances between a clinician or veterinarian and the lab are a challenge – as is often the case for veterinarians in developing country settings.

The Solution

ioLight, a British company, have developed a digital pocket microscope that goes up to the resolution of 1µm (1 micron). Making use of the screen of a separate digital device, such as a smartphone or tablet, the microscope streams the live images and video to the device. This allows the microscope to have a small form-factor, making it ideal for work in the field.
iioLight Pocket Microscope Use
ioLight Field Usage

The microscope comes with its own WiFi signal to connect to a smart device, eliminating the need for any third-party wireless network. As a battery powered device, it’s ability to be charged allows it to be used in remote locations without access to constant electricity. It comes at an affordable price tag or £840, making it about a quarter of the cost of an entry-level conventional microscope used in laboratories. The 1µm resolution make it ideal in uses where the highest resolution and magnification is not required.

These features of the ioLight microscope make it an ideal fit in developing nations, where the available laboratories may be poorly equipped and difficult to access, and veterinarians have to travel long distances to remote areas to treat and diagnose livestock diseases such helminthiasis with no diagnostic tool to aid diagnosis.

Our Review

vHive is always keen on identifying new technologies that can improve animal health and productivity, through improved diagnostic services with tools such as the ioLight portable microscope.

Dr Abel Ekiri of vHive took the ioLight microscope to Africa to demo it in a Ugandan animal diagnostic lab and assess the potential use of the ioLight microscope. Although the technical functionality of the microscope is yet to be validated in formal studies, images taken revealed ioLight has potential to be deployed and used in field settings as diagnostic tool for helminths and eggs. The characteristics that the lab personnel who used the microscope loved the most were the small size, its portability, user-friendliness, clear and sharp images seen on the phone and tablet, seamless wireless connectivity between the device and a phone or tablet, and lack of need for connecting to a power source as device can be charged prior to use.

Images observed for other parasites of interest especially blood parasites revealed that ioLight would require improvement in resolution to clearly and optimally capture images of parasites in blood smears such as Malaria parasites.

Participants appreciated the ability to visualise in real-time the pictures of helminth worms and eggs captured by the ioLight microscope on a tablet and smartphone screen. Local vets that participated in the demonstration were excited at the possibility of having ‘hard evidence’ to visually support their diagnosis as they explain helminth related problems to farmers.

Dr Abel Ekiri, Veterinary Epidemiologist
ioLight Sample Scan by vHive

Hymenolepis Nana (a human tapeworm/cestode egg) in human fecal sample - Image taken with the ioLight microscope.

While the microscope has its limitations, particularly in situations where high resolution or magnification is required; its low retail price makes it a contender for medical diagnostic products in developing countries. Being almost pocket-sized, it can be used in field environments like on farms, in clinics that are remotely located, in remote wildlife areas, and even in human and veterinary clinics located in urban areas. It may also be used by colleges and schools to teach students and kids about lab diagnosis and microscopy.

Future Possibilities?

As the ioLight microscope streams digital image or video feed to an app on a smartphone or tablet, there may be possibility to stream the scans to a lab in real time. The already existing computing power in the smartphone also opens doors for autonomous or assisted detection of harmful agents within a sample; for example, to identify parasites.

Published on 25 May 2018

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