In the world of medical technology, detecting cancer cells are extremely important to monitor and prevent metastasis – the spread of a disease from one organ  to another. However, detecting cancer cells is a difficult task. It will require a high-throughput instrument that is capable of examining millions of cells in a short span of time. That’s why a team of engineers from UCLA developed a high-throughput optical microscope that has the ability to detect cancer cells with sensitivity of one part per million in real time.

While the flow-cytometry method currently used in the diagnosis of health disorders today already has a high throughput capability, it’s not sensitive enough to detect very rare cell types due to the fact that it is reliant on single-point light scattering.

“To catch these elusive cells, the camera must be able to capture and digitally process millions of images continuously at a very high frame rate,” Bahram Jalali of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science said. “Conventional CCD and CMOS cameras are not fast and sensitive enough. It takes time to read the data from the array of pixels, and they become less sensitive to light at high speed.”

UCLA notes that the new technology is based on Jalali’s photonic time-stretch camera technology in 2009. The revolutionary technology boasts a throughput of 100,000 cells per second – approximately 100 times higher than conventional imaging-based blood analyzers. For now, the engineers are still conducting clinical tests to further validate the benefits of the technology.

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