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Smartphone-based system provides in-the-field diagnosis of cancer linked to AIDS

These days smartphones are increasingly becoming an invaluable medical tool. Researchers are experimenting with various applications and add-ons capable of a range of health-related tasks, including analyzing biological smears to identify illnesses, screening for oral cancer, monitoring lung health and diagnosing ear infections.

Now engineers at Cornell University have created a new smartphone-based system, consisting of a plug-in optical accessory and disposable microfluidic chips, allowing health-care workers in-the-field to diagnosis of Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer linked to AIDS that remains prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. According to a release:

Unlike other methods that use smartphones for diagnostic testing, this new system is chemically based and does not use the phone's built-in camera. Instead, gold nanoparticles are combined (or "conjugated") with short DNA snippets that bind to Kaposi's DNA sequences, and a solution with the combined particles is added to a microfluidic chip. In the presence of viral DNA, the particles clump together, which affects the transmission of light through the solution. This causes a color change that can be measured with an optical sensor connected to a smartphone via a micro-USB port. When little or no Kaposi's virus DNA is present, the nanoparticle solution is a bright red; at higher concentrations, the solution turns a duller purple, providing a quick method to quantify the amount of Kaposi's DNA.

The main advantage of the system compared to previous Kaposi's detection methods is that users can diagnose the condition with little training. "Expert knowledge is required for almost every other means of detecting Kaposi's sarcoma," Mancuso says. "This system doesn't require that level of expertise."

Researchers are collaborating with colleagues at Weill Cornell Medical College to develop a portable system for collecting, testing,and diagnosing samples that could be available for use in low-resource countries within the next year. The system, they say, could be used to detect a range of other conditions such as E. coli infections, hepatitis and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus .

Previously: Developing a smartphone app to monitor lung health, Using smartphone medical images to evaluate patients from afar, Diagnosing ear infections using your iPhone? Not so far-fetched and Stanford bioengineers create an ultra-low-cost oral cancer screening tool

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