FEB 11, 2020 6:50 AM PST

Portable device turns smartphones into diagnostic labs

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Your smartphone lets you connect with friends, stores your memories, sends work emails and pays for your groceries. Soon, it could even help diagnose if you have a disease.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are taking remote health monitoring to the next level with a newly developed smartphone accessory. 

No bigger than a credit card, a user simply spits into a disposable single-use chip and plugs the device into their phone. Microchannel capillaries draw the sample in where the device’s ultrasensitive optical detector picks up the presence of specific biomarkers. A customized app generates results and delivers them directly to the user’s physician almost instantaneously.

The study, published in Microsystems and Nanoengineering, used malarial infection as a model disease to validate their instrumentation. Currently, the gold standard for positively identifying malarial parasites involves sending a blood sample to a centralized laboratory facility. Here, a qualified pathologist would examine a drop of blood smeared across a glass slide under the microscope and use a set of visual criteria to look for signs of the parasite. The process can take days to weeks before results are obtained.

The diagnostic smartphone chip gives individuals the ability to get answers immediately, from anywhere in the field, using this inexpensive, easy-to-use device.

Engineering professor and researcher involved in the study, Chong Anh, said, “The performance is comparable to laboratory tests. The cost is cheaper. And it’s user-friendly. We wanted to make it simple so anyone could use it without training or support.”

Future iterations of the device are being generated, with the potential to detect a plethora of infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, HIV or Lyme disease and even detect trace biosignatures for the diagnosis of depression and anxiety.

 

 

Sources: UC News, Nature.

 

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.
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