Laboratory in a smartphone detects cancer biomarker

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Washington State University researchers have developed a multi-channel smartphone spectrometer that detects a known cancer biomarker, providing laboratory-grade accuracy in the palm of clinicians’ hands.

Portable diagnoses in a physician’s office, ambulance and rural areas are potential uses for the mobile device, which provides the same quality results as much more expensive bio-detection technologies used in laboratories, but at a fraction of the cost—$150 for the smartphone-based optical sensor.

“Compared to the standard laboratory instrument, the results sufficiently showed that this multi-channel smartphone spectrometer can achieve the comparative analysis detection limits, accuracy and sensitivity,” conclude researchers in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics. “We envision that this multi-channel smartphone optical biosensor will be useful in high-throughput point-of-care diagnostics with its minimizing size, light weight, low-cost and data transmission function.”

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While other smartphone-based spectrometers can only measure a single sample at a time, the multi-channel spectrometer developed with partial funding from the National Science Foundation can measure as many as eight different samples at once using a common test called ELISA—or colorimetric test enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay—and the smartphone’s camera sensor that identifies antibodies and color change as cancer/disease markers.

“The spectrometer would be especially useful in clinics and hospitals that have a large number of samples without on-site labs, or for doctors who practice abroad or in remote areas,” says Lei Li, assistant professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “They can’t carry a whole lab with them. They need a portable and efficient device.”

Despite the fact that researchers only tested the smartphone spectrometer with standard lab-controlled samples, they contend that their device has been up to 99 percent accurate and are looking to evaluate it in real-world environments.

“Most of our tests have been carried out in the lab, and now we want to test it in clinics and in the field,” adds Li, who notes that the only technological limitation is the iPhone 5 smartphone’s camera, which has a visible wavelength range from 400 to 700 nanometers.

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