The Smartphone That Can Diagnose Diseases in Minutes

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by Jessica Tabinor on

A portable smartphone lab which is being developed at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio has the potential to rapidly diagnose diseases through its custom-made app.

But how does it work? The patient puts a single-use plastic lab chip into their mouth whilst plugging the chip into a slot in the smartphone lab. The phones app will then use its accessory to test the saliva for viruses and diseases. The chip uses natural capillary action to draw a sample down two channels. One channel mixes the sample with freeze-dried detection antibodies. The other contains a freeze-dried luminescent material to read the results when the split samples combine again on three sensors.

The results can be reviewed within a matter of minutes as the device automatically transmits the results to the patient’s doctor via the smartphone app, providing an almost instant diagnosis.

Although it’s still in development, in a recent study published in Microsystems & Nanoengineering, representatives from the University of Cincinnati have said that the device can test for HIV, Lyme disease or health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Professor Chong Ahn, from the UC and his research team, used the smartphone device to test for malaria, but it is claimed the device could be used for smart point of care testing for countless chronic or infectious diseases or to measure hormones related to stress.

He said:

“Right now, it takes several hours or even days to diagnose in a lab, even when people are showing symptoms. The disease can spread.”

“The performance is comparable to laboratory tests. The cost is cheaper. And it’s user-friendly,” Ahn added. “We wanted to make it simple so anyone could use it without training or support.”

UC doctoral student Sthitodhi Ghosh, the study’s lead author, said the biggest advancement in the device is in the novel design of its tiny channels that naturally draw the sample through the sensor arrays using capillary flow.

“The entire test takes place on the chip automatically. You don’t have to do anything."

Ghosh claimed that this device could be the future of personal healthcare.


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