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Determine cholesterol levels via smartphone accessory

17 Dec 2013

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Researchers at Cornell University have developed a smartphone application, called the Smartphone Cholesterol Application for Rapid Diagnostics (smartCARD), that can measure cholesterol levels in a drop of blood in about one minute by leveraging the smartphone's camera. The test currently measures total cholesterol, but researchers are working to improve the test so that it breaks down the bad and good cholesterol levels, and performs triglyceride measurements.

"Smartphones have the potential to address health issues by eliminating the need for specialised equipment," said David Erickson, Cornell associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior author on a new peer-reviewed study. Thanks to advanced, sophisticated camera technology, Erickson and his colleagues have created a smartphone accessory that optically detects biomarkers in a drop of blood, sweat, or saliva. The new application then discerns the results using colour analysis.

When a user puts a drop of blood on the cholesterol test strip, it processes the blood through separation steps and chemical reactions. The strip is then ready for colourimetric analysis by the smartphone application.

The smartCARD accessory – which looks somewhat like a smartphone credit card reader – clamps over the phone's camera. Its built-in flash provides uniform, diffused light to illuminate the test strip that fits into the smartCARD reader. The application in the phone calibrates the hue saturation to the image's colour values on the cholesterol test strip, and the results appear on your phone.

The lab is undertaking efforts to make the test detect vitamin D levels as well, and has previously demonstrated smartphone tests for periodontitis and sweat electrolyte levels.

The article, "Cholesterol Testing on a Smartphone," appeared online Nov. 28 in the journal Lab on a Chip, also co-authored by Vlad Oncescu and Matthew Mancuso, Cornell graduate students in the field of engineering. This study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Engineering Research Council of Canada and Cornell's David R. Atkinson Centre for a Sustainable Future.

In a related study, the Atkinson Centre provided academic venture funding on an application that analyses micronutrients on a smartphone – so that phones can track micronutrient deficiencies for world populations. Working on this project are Erickson; Saurabh Mehta, Cornell assistant professor of nutritional sciences; Julia Finkelstein, researcher in nutritional sciences; and Joe Francis, associate professor in development sociology.

"By 2016, there will be an estimated 260 million smartphones in use in the United States. Smartphones are ubiquitous," said Erickson, adding that although smartCARD is ready to be brought to market immediately, he is optimistic that it will have even more advanced capabilities in less than a year. "Mobile health is increasing at an incredible rate," he concluded. "It's the next big thing."




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