Researchers at UCLA have developed a new optical microscope that can assist in quicker and more accurate detection of cancerous cells.
Traditional detection of these rogue cells has been difficult, because millions of cells need to be analysed in a very short amount of time. CCD and CMOS sensors, used in digital cameras, are too slow to resolve and process this data.
You may recall, back in 2009, when UCLA unveiled the world's fastest camera. The same team has built upon this technology to develop a high-throughput flow-through optical microscope that can take a blur-free image of microparticles, shooting at 36.7 million frames a second. It uses serial time-encoded amplified microscopy (STEAM), which has a throughput of 100,000 cells per second, with a flow rate of 4 metres per second. That's 100 times higher than the throughput offered by traditional imaging technologies.
The new system also offers a very low false-positive rate of one cell in a million. The potential for reducing the margin for error in diagnosis is significant.
The STEAM camera first captures fast sequential images with laser pulses and then stretches image-encoded pulses in time, so that they can be digitised and processed in real time. During the time-stretch process, images are also optically amplified to overcome the thermal noise inherent in photon-to-electron conversion.
If you'd like to stretch your brain and read more about this amazing technology, the researchers have documented their findings in a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PDF).