Smartphone lab offers rapid diagnosis of diseases

A portable lab developed at the University of Cincinnati could rapidly diagnose diseases such as coronavirus with the help of a smartphone and custom-made app.

The lab uses saliva from plastic test strips that people put in their mouths (Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services)

In use, the patient puts a single-use plastic lab chip into their mouth, then plugs the chip into a slot in the smartphone lab accessory to test the saliva.

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The device automatically transmits results to the patient's doctor through an app created at UC created for nearly instant results. According to UC, the device can test for HIV, Lyme disease or health conditions like depression and anxiety. The study was published in Microsystems & Nanoengineering.

UC professor Chong Ahn 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.

"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 in a statement.

His research team created a novel lab chip that 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.

Ahn said the device is accurate, simple to use and inexpensive.

"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."

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. This is the future of personal healthcare," Ghosh said.