JUN 22, 2021 8:00 AM PDT

See the Nasties on Your Skin with Your Smartphone

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

The skin is home to around 1.5 trillion bacteria, which together with fungi and viruses, make up the skin microbiota. This includes inside the mouth, where around 700 species of bacteria live, most of which play a central role in keeping tissues within the oral cavity healthy.

But within this collection of friends, there may be foes lurking—potentially pathogenic bacteria, capable of triggering everything from acne to gingivitis. Now, a team of bioengineers has developed a novel technique that enables us to “see” these bad guys, using our smartphones.

“Bacteria on skin and in our mouths can have wide impacts on our health — from causing tooth to decay to slowing down wound healing,” said Ruikang Wang, the lead inventor of the technology. “Since smartphones are so widely used, we wanted to develop a cost-effective, easy tool that people could use to learn about bacteria on skin and in the oral cavity.” The innovation from Wang and their team paves the way for a rapid and low-cost means of assessing whether bacteria on the surface of the skin may be harmful.

Conventional smartphone cameras capture pixels of three distinct wavelengths of visible light: red, green, and blue. However, on a microscopic level, bacteria are capable of emitting colors beyond this spectrum, which smartphone cameras can’t detect.

To overcome this limitation, the engineers designed a small black light-emitting device that attaches to the smartphone case. This 3D-printed ring contains 10 LED lights that illuminate while the photo is being taken.

“The LED lights ‘excite’ a class of bacteria-derived molecules called porphyrins, causing them to emit a red fluorescent signal that the smartphone camera can then pick up,” said Qinghua He, lead author of the study.

Porphyrins are metabolic byproducts secreted by bacteria and can reach detectable levels when there are large colonies of bacteria present. In general, high levels of porphyrins correlate with skin conditions such as delayed wound healing and severe acne.

This breakthrough paves the way for medical technologies that empower individuals to take control of their skin and oral health, say the researchers. For example, it could signal when it may be time to go for a dental cleaning or help physicians use the data to tailor clinical interventions for skin conditions.

According to Wang, there are many potential applications for this new technology. “There are a lot of directions we can go here,” said Wang. “Our bodies are complex environments, and this approach has great potential to look at many types of problems.”

 

 

Source: University of Washington, Optics and Lasers in Engineering


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
APR 27, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
No Batteries: Health Sensor Harvests Biomechanical Energy
APR 27, 2021
No Batteries: Health Sensor Harvests Biomechanical Energy
An international team of researchers has developed a wearable health monitor that works without the need for batteries. ...
JUN 08, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Primers and Probes to Assay for SARS-CoV-2 Variants in Research Samples
JUN 08, 2021
Primers and Probes to Assay for SARS-CoV-2 Variants in Research Samples
Today, many scientists are investigating SARS-CoV-2 variants in their research projects. In order to facilitate screenin ...
MAY 31, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Researchers Create the First Saliva Wiki
MAY 31, 2021
Researchers Create the First Saliva Wiki
A new digital platform, developed by researchers at the University at Buffalo, is answering the question: what’s o ...
JUN 15, 2021
Cardiology
A Common Thread Among 20% of Sudden Cardiac Deaths
JUN 15, 2021
A Common Thread Among 20% of Sudden Cardiac Deaths
It's estimated that 450,000 Americans die from sudden heart conditions, and in about one in ten cases, the cause is unex ...
JUL 04, 2021
Microbiology
Standard Methods Aren't Revealing Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Cattle
JUL 04, 2021
Standard Methods Aren't Revealing Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Cattle
Antibiotic resistant bacteria pose a potentially serious threat to public health. There are a variety of ways that peopl ...
SEP 23, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Skin Microbiome Analysis Gets Cleaned Up
SEP 23, 2021
Skin Microbiome Analysis Gets Cleaned Up
  Our skin is home to a carnival of millions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that together form the dermal microbio ...
Loading Comments...