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3D-printed microscope makes sensitive disease diagnosis more accessible 

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13 December 2019
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A 3D-printed microscope created by scientists at UNSW Medicine has the potential to make rapid disease screening and diagnosis simpler – and it’s free for anyone to download and use.

The researchers at Single Molecule Science have shared the full 3D printing instructions, analysis and optical design details in a paper in open access journal Nature Communications. Dr Emma Sierecki co-led the team.

“Our intention is that researchers who have never done single-molecule fluorescence detection before can download the files, print the scaffolding, put the three little optical elements in, and start working with the microscope. The optical elements are pre-aligned,” says Dr Yann Gambin, EMBL Australia Group Leader at UNSW Medicine’s Single Molecule Science, one of the lead authors.

The compact plug-and-play microscope – called AttoBright – has the power to detect molecules associated with diseases like Parkinson’s disease and tuberculosis. For a mere fraction of the cost of a traditional instrument, any research laboratory can tap into its superior sensitivity, as can researchers who need to take it out in the field and other resource poor settings. 

The cost saving – while substantial – isn’t AttoBright’s only advantage: it is simple to use and does not require the specialist training that traditional confocal microscopes need. 

“Instead of training people for weeks or a month on single-molecule acquisition, they can start using the instrument in five minutes,” says Dr Gambin.

To demonstrate the sensitivity and accuracy of their single-molecule sensor, the team used it to detect alpha-synuclein. The clumping of this protein is linked with Parkinson’s disease. 

“We show that this simple instrument is more than 100,000 times more sensitive, compared with the plate readers that researchers typically use for this screening,” says Dr Gambin.