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DIY Microscope Boosts Efficiency and Cuts Costs

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UXBRIDGE, England, Nov. 26, 2014 — A Brunel University London student has developed a DIY microscope that will ultimately cut research costs and save time in the lab.

Dr. Adam Lynch, a postdoctoral candidate at Brunel’s College of Health and Life Sciences, created the expandable cell motility system using inexpensive, commercially available digital USB microscopes in the study of immune cell behavior. The device — Low-Cost Motility Tracking System (LOCOMOTIS) — is essentially clamped upside-down on a table to produce the same images as a more expensive inverted microscope.

The new LOCOMOTIS microscope system could significantly reduce research costs. Courtesy of Adam Lynch/Brunel University London.

The system is designed to image various cell types using time-lapse and perform tracking assays in proof-of-concept experiments. It measures and records three separate assays simultaneously on one personal computer using identical microscopes, and obtains tracking results comparable in quality to those from other studies that use standard, more expensive equipment.

“People don’t realize that you can quite easily make a high-magnification microscope – it’s just a matter of getting a lens and the right angle of lighting,” Lynch said. “So when I turned off the lighting that came with the instrument and used external lights, I found I could see the cells quite clearly.”

His research team requires such an instrument for its study of immune cell behavior. Automatic testing of multiple samples is necessary, but using a conventional inverted microscope can be very expensive. Lynch estimates the cost of his new system to be about $250.

The Brunel researchers are specifically looking at how polluted water impacts immune cell behavior, and measuring cell motility. They are now looking at how a snail’s immune system responds to chemical pollutants present in the water, which could influence the levels of transmission of Schistosome parasites from snails to humans.

For Lynch’s work, “the only way we could get meaningful data without spending a disproportionate amount of time in the lab was this [new microscope system],” he said. And expensive, high-quality instruments are not necessary.

“When you’re looking at motility in cells, you’re only interested in the data — how fast the cell gets from A to B means more than a high-resolution image,” he said. “Even with a high-cost microscope, you will reduce the image down so that it’s just a black dot on the screen moving against a white background so that it’s easier for a computer to read.”

The researchers are now looking at other applications for the new microscope, such as medical imaging. It could be especially effective in low-resource settings, they said.

The study and development of the LOCOMOTIS was published in PLOS One (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103547).

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Nov 2014
Research & TechnologyimagingMicroscopyEuropeBiophotonicsBrunel University LondonAdam LynchCollege of Health and Life SciencesLow-Cost Motility Tracking SystemLOCOMOTIS

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