As someone who has personally dealt with skin cancer diagnosis and treatment, this advancement is exciting news. Getting an accurate and prompt diagnosis was surprisingly slow - and that was in a developed country (not the U.S.). Reading this article made me realize how serious the problem is for many patients in developing countries who likely represent a large portion of the tens of thousands of skin cancer victims who do not get diagnosed.
Australian National University (ANU) researchers have 3D printed a tiny microscope lens that can be used to "detect skin diseases, such as melanoma, and other forms of cancer." While this achievement is in and of itself impressive, its cost is even more noteworthy -
"A typical dermascope which is common in any office of a dermatologist, costs roughly $300. The researchers were able to print this lens for approximately $0.01. The lens is then attached to the camera of a smartphone or tablet"
which cuts the cost to $3.35.
So how does it work?
"The researchers used the idea that a droplet of water can bend light and magnify objects which they are close to. They decided to try and mimic the water drop characteristics, using a gel-like polymer substance called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). They were able to eject drops of the PDMS out of a 3D printer, and onto a microscope glass. They then baked the substance at 70 degrees Celsius until it hardened. Once hardened, they repeated the process one more time; this time flipping the glass after the PDMS is added, and allowing gravity to form it into a perfect parabola."
Researchers expect that eventually doctors will be able to use the 3D printed lens in conjunction with a tablet to quickly and inexpensively provide diagnoses in the field. And while they readily acknowledge its limitations - its magnification doesn't match that of traditional dermascopes - they argue that many developing economies cannot afford the instrument to the extent it is needed, so this alternative could save lives.