The invention of microscopes nearly a century ago opened up a new branch of science, microbiology. This invention led scientists to observe, examine and work with tiny organisms. So began a new era in healthcare, agriculture, and other related industries, where microscopes are mandatory. For instance, a standard blood test to diagnose blood groups or RBC count prescribed by doctors requires microscopes. The samples collected from the patients at the collection centres are transported to tier-1 cities for microscopic analysis. Transportation is a disadvantage as it increases the chance of sample degradation and cost and delays the treatment.
Microscopes play a vital role in education as well. Most of the colleges and private education sector can procure binocular microscopes. Higher-end, high-cost research-grade microscopes with advanced features are not feasible for all educational institutions. Considering that a practical laboratory session is very crowded, time is limited, and microscopes are few, students are forced to compromise their learning.
Dr Debjani Paul, Associate Professor in the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, in association with MedPrime Technologies, has developed an inverted, portable, and cost-effective microscope called “Cilika microscope”. In contrast to regular upright microscopes, the objective lenses in these microscopes pop out from below the microscopic stage where samples are placed, thus the name “Inverted Microscope”. This way, samples can be observed, either in liquid form or a fixed slide with a coverslip, without being in contact with the lenses, a risk faced in regular microscopes. The Cilika microscope is four times cheaper than any conventional microscope with similar capabilities. The Cilika microscope models have been tested for compactness and ergonomics.
The Cilika microscope can be connected to the digital display of a smart device such as a mobile phone or tab. These microscopes come with a magnification of 4X, 10X, 40X and 100X and are connected with tablet displays and operated by custom application software. The optical design of this microscope is mechanically aligned to the camera of the smart device. The 45-degree alignment of the tablet or the mobile phone reduces the back and shoulder strain generally associated with long working hours.
Attaching a camera to a conventional microscope does not capture a complete view of the microscopic field to record the observations. Thanks to the connected digital displays, the Cilika microscope can capture, store, and transmit high-resolution colour images and videos. The conventional camera-coupled microscopes do not capture the full microscopic view in one shot and exhibit a lag in the display when moving the field of view. A custom-designed Cilika app allows the user to capture high-resolution images in different fields of view and perform micrometry. The use of a smart device also makes file-sharing very easy. The image sharing option in this system can significantly benefit remote colleges and long-distance medical consultations.
The Cilika microscope supports a live projection of captured images and videos, allowing real-time interaction with research collaborators or demonstration sessions for a large class. The single magnification microscope is currently customised with a Samsung mobile phone as the display platform. The variable microscope is available with an iPad. The displays can be detached when not in use. The microscopes can also be customised to fit other phone and tablet models, depending on user requirements.
The microscope is lightweight, robust and completely portable. Over the past few years, it has been regularly taken to different rural areas of Gujarat and Maharashtra for health awareness camps and screening for sickle cell disease.
The microscopes are tested and validated for a wide range of samples and ready for production to hit the market soon. The microscopes will also be available on India’s Government e-Marketplace portal. Most of the components inside these microscopes have been designed and fabricated in India, keeping in line with the goals of Make In India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat.
These newly designed microscopes address the need for good quality inverted microscopes in field-based research and diagnostic laboratories across India. With the complete digitisation of workflow, it can also be used in various healthcare scenarios like diagnostic labs and places with a scarcity of diagnosis professionals. The currently proposed microscopes are suitable for schools, colleges, pathology labs (especially IVF labs handling liquid samples) in tier 2, 3, and 4 cities alongside research institutions in India.
Editor’s Note: This is part of the special lab stories feature we are bringing to you.
This article was edited to add the writer's name.