3D Printing Aids Development of Mobile Phone-Based Medical Devices
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on September 14, 2018 |
Engineering.com interviews Aydogan Ozcan about his unique smartphone-based lab equipment, which feat...

If you’ve been following 3D printing for a while, you may have come across the name Aydogan Ozcan, who has been using the technology for some time at his UCLA lab. While Ozcan is not focused on additive manufacturing (AM) technology itself, AM has nonetheless been crucial in the researcher’s work to advance microscopy, sensing and diagnostic equipment, which often relyon the computational power of smartphones to reduce the size and cost of devices that have the potential to save lives.

A cellphone-based system, featuring 3D-printed housing, for detecting albumin in urine, which is necessary for diagnosing kidney function. (Image courtesy of Lab on a Chip.)
A cellphone-based system, featuring 3D-printed housing, for detecting albumin in urine, which is necessary for diagnosing kidney function. (Image courtesy of Lab on a Chip.)

Engineering.com reached out to Ozcan to learn more about his work and the role that 3D printing plays in it.

After receiving a Ph.D. from the Electrical Engineering Department at Stanford University, Ozcan ultimately went on to form the Ozcan Research Group at UCLA. Ozcan himself boasts 37 patents, with 20 more pending, in fields that include telemedicine, fiber optics, nanoscopy and more. He has even received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor that a science or engineering professional can receive from the U.S. government in the early stages of their career.

Once you begin exploring the troves of research hosted on the Research Group’s website, it’s easy to understand why Ozcan is so decorated. He and his team explore a wide range of topics from deep learning and mobile microscopy to flexible and wearable sensors.

The first bit of research that was on our radar back in 2013 was a study titled “Fluorescent Imaging of Single Nanoparticles and Viruses on a Smart Phone” published in ACS Nano. The study detailed the use of a device—consisting of a smartphone, an external lens, color filter, a blue laser diode and a 3D-printed casing—to detect bacteria and viruses.

With this device (weighing less than 70g) fixed to the camera of a Nokia phone, Ozcan and his team were able to detect single particles of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), which measure many times smaller than the width of a human hair. HCMV can be a high risk for individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV or organ transplant recipients, as well as infants.

Soon after, in 2014, Ozcan and his lab created another mobile phone-based device for detecting heavy metals in water. Attached to the camera of a Samsung Galaxy II, the device, also contained in a 3D-printed housing, used red and green LEDs, a colorimetric assay to register the presence of mercury in water. A companion Android app then matches the sample against a controlled sample image to determine the mercury concentration, while also making it possible to tag where water samples are collected using the phone’s GPS.

In an interview with engineering.com, Ozcan elaborated on some of the ways in which his lab has been able to build on mobile phone architecture for medical uses:

“Besides mobilephone-based microscopy, the advanced imaging and optoelectronic sensing/sampling technologies embedded in our cellphones have also been utilized for various telemedicine and mobile health-related applications,” Ozcan said. “[These include, but are] not limited to blood analysis and cytometry, detection of bacteria or viruses, diagnosis of infectious diseases, monitoring of chronic patients (e.g., by testing urinary albumin, cholesterol, etc.), sensing of allergens, label-free detection of protein binding events, ultrasound imaging, micro-NMR for molecular analysis of tumor samples, electrochemical detection of parasites, monitoring of electrocardiogram rhythms, estimation of human eye refractive errors as well as detection of cataracts, among many other applications....”

Ozcan pointed out that the increasing power and popularity of mobile phones opens a wide array of possibilities for new technologies, such as those created in his lab. “The massive volume of mobile phone users, which has now reached [over 7] billion, drives the rapid improvements of the hardware, software and high-end imaging and sensing technologies embedded in our phones, transforming the mobile phone into a cost-effective and yet extremely powerful platform to run, for example, biomedical tests, and perform scientific measurements that would normally require advanced laboratory instruments,” Ozcan said.

While mobile phones may be doing much of the work in these cases, the unsung hero of Ozcan Research Group may be its 3D printing technology, which, at times, has included a Dimension Elite 3D printer from Stratasys.

“3D printing helps us quickly iterate our designs, test new ideas, and improve our technologies much faster,” Ozcan said. “The major advantage that we have been utilizing is improvement and customization of our technologies and their prototypes much faster. On the other hand, compared to mass manufacturing methods, 3D-printed prototypes are more expensive. This means, at large volumes, it is not as desired.”

A question that might come to mind for those familiar with the design work required to create 3D printable fixtures and housing is, who in the lab is creating these 3D printable files? Ozcan explained, “We have an interdisciplinary team spanning electrical and computer engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers and bioengineers, and depending on the project, we have teams of these backgrounds that work together to create 3D-printed mobile imagers and sensors.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that 3D printing plays such an auxiliary role in Ozcan’s lab, given the fact that it is now regularly used on factory floors to create jigs and fixtures, in addition to prototyping for product design purposes. And, as Ozcan mentioned, the technology is not always suitable for mass production, though companies like HP and its partners are quickly increasing the lot sizes possible with AM.

As a prototyping tool, however, 3D printing has served its role in Ozcan’s work and has stepped aside as the technology developed in his lab makes its way toward commercialization.

“We have commercialized and productized several of my lab's inventions,” Ozcan said. “My company, Cellmic LLC, created a portfolio of diagnostic test readers based on mobile phones and have been used in more than 10 countries now. This summer, all the mobile diagnostic products and assets of my company have been acquired by another company, NOW Dx, meaning these inventions will continue their impact on human life under another brand.”

The impact on human life that Ozcan refers to could be quite significant. NOW Dx currently offers a range of eight tests relying on smartphone- and tablet-based readers, including an acetaminophen test for detecting the possibility of overdose, an in-home HIV test, and troponin I and II tests, necessary for determining if someone is in cardiac arrest. The company also claims to have numerous other tests in the pipeline, such as for STIs, food allergens, and infectious diseases, as well as common blood screenings for diseases like malaria.

We reached out to NOW Dx for information about pricing, but Ozcan confirmed that, when similar products were sold under Cellmic, they were much more affordable than their traditional counterparts.

“[T]hese products are much more cost-effective compared to their benchtop counterparts,” Ozcan said. “I am not sure about the profit margin and the new pricing that NOWDX will have on our devices, but, for Cellmic, they were under a thousand dollars, including the smartphone, if the product included a smartphone as part of its design. Some Cellmic products did not [use] smartphones.”

Ozcan described the utility of such devices, saying, “In resource limited settings, developing countries and point-of-care offices, mobile phone integrated diagnostic tools have been finding applications,” Ozcan said.“In addition to this, home use is another avenue, for example, for chronic patients and the elderly.”

Speaking from personal experience as a former coordinator for my family’s free medical clinic in a rainforest of Bolivia, a low-cost, mobile test for troponin would have been crucial in at least two instances. When our volunteer doctors suspected patients on two different occasions were experiencing heart attacks, I drove the patients about 100km into the city to have the troponin tests administered and verify the status of their cardiac arrests.

These were only two examples in which mobile testing would have been beneficial. When heavy rains caused roads to the clinic to be too muddy for patients to visit us, we would drive out to remote, rural communities and provide basic care. When doctors required lab testing to make a diagnosis, patients would have to wait until the rains subsided to visit our clinic.

As natural disasters become more extreme as a result of climate change, disaster scenarios may become more common. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, for instance, medical groups struggled to traverse the wreckage to attend to remote patients. Such mobile testing equipment, then, could prove uniquely useful for diagnosing issues suffered by patients in these settings.

The work being developed by Ozcan’s lab go beyond the use of devices for medical applications. For instance, the above video depicts a 3D-printed system for high-throughput quantification of particulate matter. The system, which features 3D-printed housing, uses a smartphone to screen 6.5 L of air in 30 seconds before creating microscopic images of aerosols in the air.

Using the system at Los Angeles International Airport over a 24-hour period, Ozcan’s lab was able to determine that particulates were present as far away as 47km from the airport. The system also relies on machine learning so that it can be adaptively tailored for different particulates, including pollen and mold.

This last example demonstrates how Ozcan’s lab is only advancing as various fields like artificial intelligence progress. 3D printing may only lend a helping hand, but it will be exciting to see what future advances the technology enables the Ozcan Research Group to achieve.

To learn more about the research of Ozcan and his team, visit the website of Ozcan Research Group. To learn about his company, visit the Cellmic website.

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