Spheroscope: A custom-made miniaturized microscope for tracking tumour spheroids in microfluidic devices
3D cell culture models consisting of self-assembled tumour cells in suspension, commonly known as tumour spheroids, are becoming mainstream for high-throughput anticancer drug screening. A usual measurable outcome of screening studies is the growth rate of the spheroids in response to treatment. This is commonly quantified on images obtained using complex, expensive, optical microscopy systems, equipped with high-quality optics and customized electronics. Here we present a novel, portable, miniaturized microscope made of low-cost, mass-producible parts, which produces both fluorescence and phase-gradient contrast images. Since phase-gradient contrast imaging is based on oblique illumination, epi-illumination is used for both modalities, thus simplifying the design of the system. We describe the system, characterize its performance on synthetic samples and show proof-of-principle applications of the system consisting in imaging and monitoring the formation and growth of lung and pancreas cancer tumour spheroids within custom made microfluidic devices.