Smartphones could diagnose diseases in real time

While still in the early stages, a group at the University of Houston in Texas is developing a diagnostic system to help detect diseases through a smartphone and a $20 lens attachment to read results. The journal ACS Photonics recently published a paper outlining the details of how the system works.

The diagnostic system is essentially a biosensing device and a microscope for reading the results. The smartphone, along with the lens, would act as the microscope. The biosensing device is outfitted with nanotechnology that combines optical transmission of nanoholes with silver staining. The device would detect the result of a chemical reaction between a pathogen and a bonding molecule.

What types of diseases could it detect? Well, a common pathogen such as strep bacterium when it reacts with an anti-strep antibody. When the reaction occurs, the system senses it in a way that can’t be confused with any other reactions.

The team created a glass slide with a thin film of gold that contains thousands of nanoholes in ordered rows and columns for the biosensing part of the device. They then worked on putting the pathogens in the nanoholes so the chemical reactions can take place within the holes. However, when the team combined the pathogens with the antibodies, the reactions were not great enough to plug the hole completely, which led to inaccurate results.

To fix the problem, the team then used antibodies with enzymes that created silver particles when reacting to certain chemicals. This allowed for the nanoholes to completely fill. So a person would put a pathogen sample on the slide in a special antibody solution then shine a light through the holes. If the holes are blocked, then it is a positive diagnosis.

The team is still working on the microscope aspect, getting accurate results every time, and in making the device affordable. The hope is that this device could be useful in diagnosing people after chemical disasters and in helping to diagnose more common ailments in undeveloped countries.

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