I have written recently on the use of smart phones for various medical tests, but lingering doubts relate to their accuracy as compared to traditional laboratory testing. In addition, the F.D.A. has viewed such diagnostic Apps as ‘new medical devices’ and has required that they undergo extensive testing prior to their approval. Now, we hear about an amazing new technology that aims at addressing existing reservations.
A recently published study, by a team of researchers at Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, reports on a smartphone accessory that claims to be as accurate as traditional medical laboratory testing, in detecting HIV and syphilis antibodies. The researchers claim that their device “replicates, for the first time, all mechanical, optical and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test.” This accessory, also known commonly as a “dongle”, is so small and lightweight, that it can be held in one hand and costs only about $34 to produce. This is in contrast to traditional and much larger diagnostic equipment used in medical laboratories which costs tens of thousands of dollars.
In their study, the device was tested in Rwanda among 96 pregnant women, in order to prevent them from passing these diseases to their offspring. With this test, all that’s required is that a drop of blood resulting from a finger prick be applied to a disposable plastic cassette which fits onto the device. The cassette houses chemical reagents that are mixed by simply applying digital pressure. Since the dongle does not contain its own electric current, it relies on the phone’s audio jack through which it receives power and through which it also transmits the results to the smartphone within 15 minutes, where they are then kept on file.
It’s anticipated that with time, this technology will be expanded to cover more diseases and be consumer oriented and user-friendly. Providing this level of accuracy in disease testing, especially in settings located far from the barest essentials, no doubt will have a major impact on the health and lives of millions who currently live in remote areas. Thanks to this new dongle and similar other developments, the smartphone has just become a little smarter, and all indications are that this trend will continue and bring with it novel applications that will result major changes in the delivery of healthcare.
by Jacob Klausner