The solution developed by Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS (FhP-AICOS) has received a European patent (EP3757648A1), the third in 2023. This is a mobile technology for automatically acquiring and digitalizing biological samples, which could complement conventional microscopy.
Since 2013, FhP-AICOS has been developing applied technology in the field of mobile microscopy, starting with the creation of an automated tool to support the diagnosis of malaria. The solution developed at the time used the computing, sensing and performance capabilities of conventional smartphones to automate the process of acquiring, digitalizing and processing biological samples. The patent, now awarded to the FhP-AICOS solution, protects the specification of the optical system and the methods that support the automatic acquisition and digitalization of microscopic images.
For Luís Rosado, senior researcher at FhP-AICOS and one of the people responsible for the patented technology, "this prototype is an affordable, automated alternative to conventional microscopes, designed to effectively support microscopy-based diagnosis in areas with limited access to health services. Through the use of an automated platform entirely powered and controlled by a smartphone, the μSmartScope [the technology's internal name] enables the autonomous acquisition of microscopic images, with the aim of reducing the burden of manual microscopic examination."
"The patent we have now obtained protects the idea embodied in this prototype," explains the researcher. The patented method includes a camera and an electronic data processor, with some differentiating features such as automated focusing, automated image acquisition and automated scanning of biological sample slides.
The solution, which was initially created to support malaria diagnosis, has been adapted and tested in different contexts, namely for other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as Chagas disease and microfilaria, and more recently, to support cervical cancer screening.
Luís Rosado emphasises that "the granting of this patent is an important milestone that shows how our [FhP-AICOS] applied research can result in cutting-edge innovative technologies capable of industrial application." For Paulo Torres, a researcher at FhP-AICOS and another of the technology's inventors, "this patent is the culmination of years of applied research that highlights how the multidisciplinary work we carry out at FhP-AICOS can have a significant impact on people's lives, particularly by making it possible to expand microscopy-based diagnosis to areas with limited access to equipment and qualified human resources."