US researchers have found a way to turn a common smartphone into a quick and easy device to conduct field tests for HIV and syphilis.
Using an attachment that costs $34 to make — a far cry from the standard $18,000 for diagnostic tests — blood drops are tested for the diseases' antibodies in minutes instead of hours, said the research led by Columbia University engineers.
When plugged into a smartphone's audio jack, scientists said it mimicked the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), a well-known test for HIV, and "performed almost as well."
The initial study, involving 96 women in Rwanda, is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Experts hope that this lab-on-a-chip device could be a helpful tool, especially in places where field clinics are set up to help remote or underserved populations.
The team, led by Samuel Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering, is aiming for larger clinical trials first.
"Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory," said Sia.
"Coupling microfluidics with recent advances in consumer electronics can make certain lab-based diagnostics accessible to almost any population with access to smartphones. This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the world," he said.
The study was funded by a Saving Lives at Birth transition grant — which is backed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Gates Foundation, the government of Norway, Grand Challenges Canada, the World Bank and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation.