The Portable Lab in Your Pocket

Smartphones are advanced computers. Think of your desktop model condensed down to the size of your phone. So almost anything that requires computation can be done on a cellphone if the software is there. Adding some hardware on top of that increases the possibilities. For example, you can easily build your own microscope with $10 worth of hardware and a cellphone.

One of the most promising areas for smartphone adaptability is medicine. For example, several efforts are underway to add components to a phone to make good predictions of whether skin lesions are cancerous. And other applications available include making high-quality retina photos that can be emailed to ophthalmologists for diagnosis, measuring heart functions, pulse monitoring, and even a simple pharmacopoeia called Epocrates that gives you detailed information on prescription drugs.

The next area of use that would be truly revolutionary is blood diagnostics. A number of efforts are underway, but earlier this year, the journal Science Translational Medicine reported on work in Rwanda to diagnose HIV and syphilis with a smartphone that indicates the revolution is well underway.

Researchers built an add-on to a smartphone that can take a pinprick of blood from a patient and show 15 minutes later on the screen whether HIV or syphilis is present. Health care workers recruited 96 patients, including women who might pass on HIV or syphilis to their unborn children, and compared the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, called ELISA, from the smartphone to a state-of-the-art laboratory device that takes hours to produce results. The phone device worked as well as the lab machine.

The add-on device costs about $34, far less than the $18,000 for a laboratory ELISA machine.

Researchers are working on a second-generation device that could detect cancer, and they are hoping it will be approved by the World Health Organization.

To a bright future,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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