Researchers at Columbia University have developed a smartphone accessory (“dongle”) that can quickly analyze blood for the presence of HIV and syphilis. Until now, the best way to diagnose these diseases was to use a laboratory machine called an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The new dongle has all the capabilities of the ELISA, but requires so little power that a smartphone can handle it just fine. What’s more, the dongle can do three tests in one—one for HIV, one for active syphilis, and one for inactive syphilis—while the ELISA can do only one. The dongle also has the ELISA beat in terms of cost ($34 to manufacture versus the $18,450 ELISA), pain minimization (the dongle requires way less blood for the test), and timeliness (the dongle returns results in 15 minutes rather than 2.5 hours).
To run the rest, you just need to plug the small device into your smartphone’s audio jack, allowing it to access the power delivered by the phone’s audio signal. Then you *** your finger to draw a small drop of blood and run the test on a disposable plastic cassette that’s been preloaded with chemical reactants. The cassette is divided into zones, with each zone performing one test. Within 15 minutes you get your results, which you can then save into your phone. In field tests, participants lauded the new technology, a whopping 97% preferring it to the ELISA test.
The set-up. (via Science Translational Medicine)
The development of this dongle and other user-friendly health technologies paired with the falling prices of smartphones is making it a whole lot easier to get tested, especially for people of lower socioeconomic status. The dongle is especially beneficial to pregnant mothers who, if they test positive, can begin to provide the necessary care to their infants as quickly as possible.
This dongle is just the latest addition to a plethora of newly adapted health-related smartphone technologies that make it easier, cheaper, and less time-consuming for people to maintain their health. Along with monitoring our heart rates and receiving text-message reminders to take our medications, we can now privately test ourselves for sexually transmitted diseases with our cellphones in the privacy of our own homes.
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