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The Portable Smartphone Laboratory
The Portable Smartphone Laboratory
Researchers have developed a low-cost, portable laboratory on a smartphone that works nearly to detect viral and bacterial infections.
Technology Briefing

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Washington State University researchers have developed a low-cost, portable laboratory on a smartphone that works nearly as well as clinical laboratories to detect common viral and bacterial infections. The work could lead to faster and lower-cost lab results for fast-moving viral and bacterial epidemics.

The researchers published their work in the journal, Clinica Chimica Acta,describing the design and implementation of the key clinical validation study.

In rural or underserved areas, doctors sometimes must rely on a patient's symptoms or use their own judgement in looking at test sample color results to determine whether a patient has an infection. As one would expect, this process is often inaccurate. But, if they send results off to a lab in a distant city, the doctors sometimes must wait for days, by which time the infection may have become widespread. Most existing mobile health diagnostic devices, meanwhile, can only analyze one sample at a time.

The WSU researchers found that their portable smartphone reader worked nearly as well as standard lab testing in detecting 12 common viral and bacterial infectious diseases, such as mumps, measles, herpes, and Lyme Disease. The researchers tested the device, which is about the size of a hand, with 771 patient samples at the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania.  They found that it provided false positives only about one percent of the time. And, it was 97 to 99.9 percent accurate, depending on which of the 12 diseases was involved.

The smartphone reader, which includes a portable device, takes a photo of 96 sample wells at once and uses a computer program to carefully analyze color to determine positive or negative results.

This smartphone reader has the potential to improve access and speed up healthcare delivery.  If doctors find out about infections, they can treat them more quickly, which makes a difference especially in low-resource, remote areas.

Buying the components themselves, the research team was able to build the device for about $50, but the manufacturing cost would probably be lower than that. They have filed a patent application and hope to move forward with clinical trials that could lead to commercialization.  
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