A research team from Washington State University, led by Lei Li, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering has developed a portable laboratory on a smartphone. Although the unit is low-cost, it produces lab quality results and can analyze several samples at once to detect a cancer biomarker.
Medical professionals and patients are forever demanding faster results. To meet this demand, scientists are in a race trying to transform bio detection technologies used in laboratories to the clinic and field. When they succeed in this goal, patients are able to get virtually instant diagnoses in an emergency room, a physician’s office, or an ambulance.
The WSU research team developed a smartphone spectrometer with eight channels that analyzes the type and amount of chemicals in a sample by measuring the light spectrum. They focused on detecting human interleukin-6 (IL-6), a known biomarker for prostate, lung, breast, liver and epithelial cancers.
Existing smartphone spectrometers are inefficient in real world applications because they only measure a single sample at a time. Li’s spectrometer is multichannel and can measure up to eight different samples at once. The device uses a common test called colorimetric test enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The test measures color change and identifies antibodies as disease markers.
Although the smartphone spectrometer has only been tested with standard lab controlled samples, it has been up to 99 percent accurate. Li’s team is now testing their smartphone spectrometer in real world situations.
Li has filed a provisional patent for the work. He explains that the device is so efficient because they can insert one sample in eight different wells to do eight different tests, or use eight different samples and do the same test.
He adds that the spectrometer would be especially useful for doctors who practice abroad or in remote areas, or in clinics and hospitals that don’t have on site labs, but have to test a large number of samples. In both these scenarios, the doctors aren’t able to carry a whole lab with them, but need an efficient, portable device.
Although Li’s design currently only works with an iPhone 5, he is in the process of creating a flexible design that will be compatible with any smartphone.
The study was recently published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.