Now there's a cheap smartphone accessory to test a drop of blood for diseases

Smartphone dongles performed a point-of-care HIV and syphilis test in Rwanda from finger prick blood in 15 minutes. Image: Samiksha Nayak, Columbia Engineering

A smartphone accessory has been created which rapidly diagnoses infectious diseases such as HIV and syphilis on the spot and without a laboratory.

A team of US researchers developed a device and software which can perform tests from a finger prick of blood in just 15 minutes.

The device replicates all mechanical, optical and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test.

Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, says the new dongle was piloted by health care workers in Rwanda.

“Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory,” says 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.”

Sia estimates the dongle can be manufactured for $34 compared to the $18,450 which typical lab equipment costs.

“Our dongle presents new capabilities for a broad range of users, from health care providers to consumers,” Sia says. “By increasing detection of syphilis infections, we might be able to reduce deaths by 10-fold. And for large-scale screening where the dongle’s high sensitivity with few false negatives is critical, we might be able to scale up HIV testing at the community level with immediate antiretroviral therapy that could nearly stop HIV transmissions and approach elimination of this devastating disease.”

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