Researchers have engineered a tiny portable lab that plugs into people’s phone, and connects automatically to a doctor’s office through a custom app, an advance they claim may help diagnose infectious diseases, as well as mental health conditions.
The device, described in the journal Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineering, is the size of a credit card, and can diagnose diseases such as malaria, HIV, or other conditions like depression and anxiety, the study noted.
According to the researchers, including Chong Ahn from the University of Cincinnati in the US, patients put a single-use plastic lab chip into their mouth, and plug it into a slot in the device to test their saliva.
The device automatically transmits results to the patient’s doctor through a custom app for nearly instant results, they said in a statement.
Ahn and his team used the smartphone device to test for malaria.
“Right now it takes several hours or even days to diagnose in a lab, even when people are showing symptoms. The disease can spread,” Ahn said.
According to the study, the novel lab chip uses the tendency for liquids to adhere to a surface — capillary action — to draw a sample down two channels called a “microchannel capillary flow assay.”
One channel, the researchers said, mixes the sample with freeze-dried antibodies, which are large proteins part of the immune system that specifically target agents foreign to the body.
The other channel, they said, contains a freeze-dried luminescent material to read the results when the split samples combine again on three sensors.
“The performance is comparable to laboratory tests. The cost is cheaper. And it’s user-friendly,” Ahn said.
“We wanted to make it simple so anyone could use it without training or support,” he added.
The study noted that the use of smartphones for the novel device’s display, data transfer, source of power, storage and analysis allowed the development of a portable analyser that can be deployed for disease diagnostics directly to the point of care.
According to the researchers, the biggest advancement in the device is in the novel design of its tiny channels which naturally draw the sample through the sensors using capillary flow.
“The entire test takes place on the chip automatically. You don’t have to do anything. This is the future of personal healthcare,” said study co-author Sthitodhi Ghosh from the University of Cincinnati.