Researchers at the University of Houston, Cullen College of Engineering, are in the process of developing a system to diagnose diseases in real time with smartphones.
Smartphones are capable of streaming video and music, sending photos and messages in seconds, alongside providing news and directions, and new apps permit for tracking exercise and diet. So why not use smartphones for diagnosing diseases too – and no, not through a symptoms index on a website, but treating the phone itself as a diagnostic tool.
The UH researchers are developing a personal disease diagnostic system that offers results that could be read using only a smartphone app and a $20 lens attachment.
The concept was co-invented by Jiming Bao, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Richard Willson, Huffington-Woestemeyer Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, explains Medical News Today. The research and prototype were funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health and The Welch Foundation, and was featured in February in ACS Photonics.
This diagnostic device works on specific chemical interactions associated with a disease – isolating a particular type of antibody that would be allied with a particular virus or bacteria. Ideally, the goal is to hone the ability of the smartphone and attachment to detect these abnormalities quickly, inexpensively, and easily.
According to Science News Line, this process involves a simple glass slide and a thin film of gold with thousands of holes poked in it, forming pillars of photoresist and points of transparency. A photoresist is a light-sensitive material used in several industrial processes, such as photolithography and photoengraving, to form a patterned coating on a surface.
The aforementioned, strategically created holes, measuring about 600 nanometers each, are key to the system. Willson and Bao’s device diagnoses an illness by tracking the light-blocking presence of antibodies. With the inexpensive lens attachment, the smartphone would provide enough light and magnification to determine whether the holes are blocked. This system, then, creates readouts that are affordable, portable, and easy to interpret.
Notably, there are still several major technical hurdles to resolve before the system could be made available for general diagnostic use. One of the biggest challenges is finding a way to drive the sample bacteria and viruses further into the surface of the slide in order to ensure the most accurate results. Still, the work thus far appears promising.
[Photo Credit: William Hook]