22 Mar 2013
Low-cost LED-based fluorescence microscopes are being sent around the world in a bid to beat the killer lung disease.
The optics giant Carl Zeiss says that it has delivered more than 1200 of its “Primo Star iLED” fluorescence microscopes to Ethiopia in February alone, where the low-cost technology is being used to detect tuberculosis (TB).
The company adds that it has received recent orders from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan, demonstrating the global demand for the microscopes two years after the World Health Organization (WHO) first recommended the optical technology as the best solution for detecting the lung disease in the developing world.
Zeiss says that in 2012 it delivered more than 1800 of the microscopes to TB centers in regions of the world most affected by the disease, which according to WHO and the StopTB Partnership now kills some 1.5 million people each year.
Though TB can be fatal if left untreated, when detected it can be treated within six months, at a cost of just $100 in many developing countries, according to the StopTB Partnership.
The bacterium is extremely common and it is believed that around one third of the world's population is infected with tuberculosis pathogens currently – though the vast majority, with healthy immune systems, do not show any symptoms.
The fluorescence microscope from Zeiss supports medical personnel in remote regions, providing fast and reliable diagnosis of tuberculosis in situ. In 2011, WHO recommended that it replaced the traditional Ziehl-Neelsen staining method of detection.
The Primo Star iLED uses solid-state illumination in place of the mercury lamps previously required, and thanks to the low voltage and high electrical efficiency of the LEDs, the microscope needs no cooling and can even be powered by batteries for use in locations with no electricity supply.
Because it is based on 455 nm emitters, rather than the broadband ultraviolet spectrum produced by a mercury lamp, the new approach requires a different staining method for TB detection.
Zeiss is itself a member of WHO’s Stop TB initiative, which was founded in 2006 with the aim of eliminating the disease by 2050. The Germany-headquartered company developed Primo Star iLED with the Swiss Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), and the microscope is made available to health facilities in the worst-hit countries at a greatly reduced price.