The great promise of Aydogan Ozcan's work has earned him several prestigious honours for young scientists, most recently the 2009 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director's New Innovator Award. Given to young faculty by the National Institutes of Health, the award includes funding of $1,5 million over five years to support highly innovative research projects.
"It is an honour to receive such an award from the NIH", stated Aydogan Ozcan, who is a member of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCLA. "This award will be invaluable in my efforts to create a revolutionary device that is capable of significantly improving health care in the long run by increasing the throughput and speed of nano-imaging."
This NIH award programme is specifically designed to support creative new investigators with highly innovative research ideas at an early stage in their career, when they may lack the preliminary data required for traditional grants. The review process emphasizes creativity, innovative research approaches and the potential of a given project to have a significant impact on an important biomedical or behavioural research problem.
Aydogan Ozcan will use the NIH award to further his research, exploring new ways to image and sense nanoscale events using compact imaging architectures that can potentially be interfaced with standard cell phones. "This research has the potential for global impact, and we are very excited that the NIH has recognized both Professor Ozcan and his work", stated Paul S. Weiss, director of the CNSI.
"Aydogan's work has great potential in transforming mobile phones into portable yet powerful medical devices", stated Vijay K. Dhir, dean of UCLA Engineering. "The significant attention he's received for his research is well deserved and is a testament to the quality of young faculty we have here at the school."
In Aydogan Ozcan's lab, a prototype cell phone diagnostic unit has been constructed that utilizes LUCAS, an innovative lens-free, high-throughput imaging platform. Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell Monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging (LUCAS) first uses a light source to illuminate a sample of blood, saliva or other fluid. Then, with a sensor array, a "shadow image" - essentially a diffraction pattern - is obtained of the microparticles in the sample, such as red blood cells.
Because red blood cells and other microparticles have a distinct diffraction pattern, they can be identified and counted virtually instantaneously by LUCAS using a custom-developed "decision algorithm" that compares the captured shadow images to a library of images. Data collected by LUCAS can then be sent to a hospital for analysis and diagnosis using the cell phone, or transferred by USB to a computer for transmission to a hospital.
The compact, lightweight and portable nature of LUCAS makes the potential impact of Aydogan Ozcan's mobile lab very exciting. Currently, microscopes and advanced medical lab equipment, like flow cytometers, represent the standard for examining, identifying and counting cells. But they are bulky, cost tens of thousands of dollars and require trained technicians to operate.
"With LUCAS, we were able to simplify the imaging device. And because LUCAS does not require a lens, we were also able to increase the visual field to a few hundred times larger than the area that can be seen under a microscope", Aydogan Ozcan stated. "LUCAS really provides a capability that doesn't exist today."
Resource-poor areas, like parts of Africa, India and Brazil, would benefit enormously from having tools that could diagnose and monitor diseases in the field. Today, the great distances between people in need of health care and the facilities capable of providing it still pose a major obstacle to improving health.
According to Aydogan Ozcan, the LUCAS platform can be produced rather inexpensively - parts cost less than $10 - and all one needs is a simple camera phone. In developed nations like the United States, point-of-care testing can potentially be done by LUCAS as well, reducing the cost and frequency of visits to the doctor's office and to labs.
Specifically, for HIV patients, the phone can be used to measure CD4 or CD8 cells in a person's blood to determine if an HIV patient has AIDS; or a red blood cell count can determine if someone is anemic or might have malaria. Further, in the event of a disaster in which water quality may be compromised, the cell phone can be used to detect hazardous microparticles that might have contaminated drinking water.
To broaden the applications of LUCAS, Aydogan Ozcan's next goal is to modify the imaging platform so that it is able to detect low concentrations of bacteria, at levels of 100 to 1000 bacteria per milliliter. Aydogan Ozcan said he is confident that when merged with nanotechnology, LUCAS can be enhanced to analyze nanoparticles like viruses, proteins and even DNA.
In addition to the New Innovator Award, Aydogan Ozcan, 30, was also recently named one of Technology Review's top young innovators under the age of 35. The magazine honours technologists and scientists whose work they believe is changing the world.
The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programmes, including an interdepartmental graduate degree programme in biomedical engineering. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to five multi-million-dollar interdisciplinary research centres in wireless sensor systems, nanotechnology, nanomanufacturing and nano-electronics, all funded by federal and private agencies.
The California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) is an integrated research centre operating jointly at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara whose mission is to foster interdisciplinary collaborations for discoveries in nanosystems and nanotechnology; train the next generation of scientists, educators and technology leaders; and facilitate partnerships with industry, fueling economic development and the social well-being of California, the United States and the world. The CNSI was established in 2000 with $100 million from the state of California and an additional $250 million in federal research grants and industry funding.
At the institute, scientists in the areas of biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, mathematics, computational science and engineering are measuring, modifying and manipulating the building blocks of our world - atoms and molecules. These scientists benefit from an integrated laboratory culture enabling them to conduct dynamic research at the nanoscale, leading to significant breakthroughs in the areas of health, energy, the environment and information technology.