For a while now, DVD players — and to some extent Blu-ray players — have been losing prevalence. Apple began removing optical drives from its laptops years ago, and today even gaming PCs rely more on digital downloads than on optical media. Rather than recycle those DVD drives, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm has turned a commercial DVD drive into a laser scanning microscope. This microscope can image cells, as well as analyze blood, making it a cheap way to test for illness.
The researcher, Aman Russom, and his team, say that the DVD drive can analyze DNA and RNA, as well as proteins and whole cells at a quick pace. This means it can complete an HIV test in a matter of minutes. The team calls the device a Lab-on-DVD, and through the use of a regular DVD player, it can image cells with a one-micrometer resolution — making it fairly precise.
Flow cytometry, a standard practice in HIV testing, involves the counting and organization of cells. Though standard practice, a flow cytometry machine is still quite expensive — sometimes reaching $30,000. This means that developing countries or underfunded practices may not be able to afford one. However, a cheap DVD player is eminently more affordable, and the Lab-on-DVD is estimated to cost as low as $200. Due to the nature of the device, it would also be more portable than a standard flow cytometry machine, as well as easier to use.
Perhaps best of all, though, is that the Lab-on-DVD works so quickly that it can provide a patient with a result right then and there, without requiring the patient to go home and suffer through an anxiety-inducing waiting period.
We’re not professional biochemists over here at Geek, but we do see the similarity between a machine that uses a laser to image cells, and a machine that uses a laser to image data. For patients of underfunded hospitals or living in developing countries, it’s a boon that Russom and his team not only saw the similarities, but were able to do something about it. It’s certainly a better use for a DVD player than having it sitting in the basement next to your old HDDs that have been replaced by speedy SSDs.