Smartphone albumin detector to make life easier for diabetics

A lightweight device that conducts kidney tests and transmits data through a smartphone attachment could reduce the need for frequent surgery visits by people with diabetes or chronic kidney ailments.

The smartphone-based device was developed in the research lab of Aydogan Ozcan, a professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute.

The device can determine levels of albumin – a protein in blood that is a sign of danger when found in urine – in the patient’s urine and transmit the results in seconds. Albumin is a protein in blood that is a sign of danger when found in urine.

Ozcan’s lab also developed the opto-mechanical phone attachment, disposable test tubes, Android app and software to transmit the data. The research has been published in Lab on a Chip.

‘Albumin testing is frequently done to assess kidney damage, especially for diabetes patients,’ Ozcan said in a statement. ‘This device provides an extremely convenient platform for chronic patients at home or in remote locations where cell phones work.’

Patients at risk for diabetes, kidney disease and other ailments must regularly provide fluid samples – sometimes more than one a day – to monitor their health, which requires visits to labs or health centres.

The new device is said to project beams of visible light through two small fluorescent tubes attached to the device, one containing a control liquid and the other a urine sample mixed with fluorescent dyes. The smartphone camera captures the fluorescent light after it passes through an additional lens.

An Android application then processes the raw images in less than one second and the device transmits the test results to a database or health care provider.

The test, which measures albumin concentration in urine, is claimed to be accurate to within less than 10 micrograms per millilitre, which is within accepted clinical standards used in diagnosing conditions such as microalbuminuria, the excretion of albumin in urine.

The time it takes to conduct a test, including preparation of a sample using a small syringe to inject the urine into a fluorescent tube, is about five minutes.

Ozcan estimates that the device — for which his lab also has developed an iPhone app — could be produced commercially for $50 to $100 per unit.