Smart Phone Could Help Doctors to Diagnose Illness

Along with all their other functions, smart phones may soon be able to diagnose diseases in real time.

Researchers from the University of Houston are developing a diagnostic system that could be read using only a smart phone and a $20 lens attachment.

This new device, like essentially all diagnostic tools, relies on spotting specific chemical interactions between something that causes a disease – a virus or bacteria, for example – and a molecule that bonds with that one thing only, like a disease-fighting antibody.

But so far, there’s been no easy or cheap way to make such a diagnosis. However, the researchers came up with a system that involves a simple glass slide and a thin film of gold.

The system uses a standard slide that is covered in a light-sensitive material known as a photoresist. Ultimately, that combination leads to infinitesimal holes that can diagnose an illness by blocking the light with a disease-antibody bond.

It’s here that the smart phone can be used. A basic microscope used in elementary school classrooms, , provides enough light and enough magnification to show whether holes are blocked. With a few small tweaks, a similar reading could almost certainly be made with a phone’s camera, flash and an attachable lens.

“Some of the more advanced diagnostic systems need $200,000 worth of instrumentation to read the results,” said researcher Richard Willson, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “With this, you can add $20 to a phone you already have and you’re done.”

Further research is needed, but the investigators said their system could be used to screen large groups of people for serious illnesses like diabetes.

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