A new, 3D-printed microscope could help doctors sense COVID-19 in a drop of blood.

The macine, created at the Optical Sensing and Imaging Systems Lab at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the system uses a 3D-printed body and a simple camera to analyse blood. The important part, however, is the machine-learning tech that can find COVID-19 viruses in a small sample of blood.

“The system, which uses digital holographic microscopy, could be used in areas that lack health care facilities, as well as in hospitals whose labs are backlogged with tests,” writes the IEEE.

Most of the components are off-the-shelf and quite cheap, including the camera, laser, and lens. The most important part is the ML code that does the work of finding viruses.

This particular solution doesn’t “see” viruses at all but instead scans for anomalies in red blood cells caused by the virus. The system can sense signatures inside the cells that suggest infection. Most importantly, the team “found recent research on COVID-19 patients that suggests statistically significant differences in the size and shape of red blood cells, especially in those with a severe case of the virus.”

“I wanted to find a way to quickly test for the virus from a droplet of blood using an affordable, portable, and rapid disease-identification system,” said Bahram Javidi, one of the researchers on the project..

By John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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