Cholesterol testing: There's even an app for that!

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  • Published: Jan 1, 2014
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: UV/Vis Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Cholesterol testing: There's even an app for that!

Cholesterol selfie

A quick home test lets you analyse a

A quick home test lets you analyse a "selfie" of your own blood sample with a special smart phone app to give you a precise measure of your blood cholesterol level. The work reported in the journal Lab on a Chip takes us another step closer to a portable, personal diagnostic system that could let patients track their personal health metrics and adjust their prescribed medication as necessary or seek the advice of a healthcare professional in a more timely manner than would be possible if samples had to be tested by a hospital laboratory, for instance.

David Erickson, Cornell University's associate professor of mechanical engineering suggests that a new device that works with your smart phone can obtain an accurate reading for your cholesterol level in less than a minute and with far less fuss than standard home testing kits. The team's system is known as smart phone cholesterol application for rapid diagnostics, or smartcard for short.

Simple and smart

"Smart phones have the potential to address health issues by eliminating the need for specialized equipment," explains Erickson. Thanks to the advanced and relatively sophisticated camera technology present in modern phones, the team was able to exploit the devices to detect optically biomarkers present in a sample of saliva, sweat or even a drop of blood, using colorimetric analysis. The device carries out the necessary separation and chemical processing to make the biomarkers, if they are present, visible to the smart phone camera and subsequent software analysis of the acquired image.

The team describes their smartCARD accessory as resembling a portable credit card reader and it clamps over the phone's camera. It has a built-in flash gun to provide the necessary uniform, diffuse light to illuminate the test strip that is inserted into the smartCARD reader after the sample has been added. Calibration against a standard value hue is carried out and the system then gives a value for the person's total blood cholesterol; calibration would be necessary for use with smart phones other than the Apple iPhone used as proof of principle in this research. This value is not particularly useful medical speaking for anything more than a broad fitness assessment, so the team is now working to allow their device to distinguish between so-called "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins), "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins) and triglycerides measurements. Taken together these three figures can give healthcare workers a much clearer picture of a patient's risk of cardiovascular disease as associated with lipoprotein ratios and triglycerides. The team is also working on detecting vitamin D levels. They already have tests for periodontitis and sweat electrolyte levels.

Apps to not die for

"By 2016, there will be an estimated 260 million smart phones in use in the United States alone," says Erickson. He says that the smartCARD system is ready to be brought to market now and reckons that the team will have added several more advanced features within a year. "Mobile health is increasing at an incredible rate," he concluded. "It's the next big thing."

"We showed the ability to measure cholesterol levels within 1.8% accuracy in the relevant physiological range base don image saturation," the team concludes. "We also demonstrated interphone repeatability before performing user experiments and measuring blood cholesterol levels with the system we have developed," they add.

"The next step in the research is to commercialize the existing test and then advance it to test more nutritional markers including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and folic acid," Erickson revealed to SpectroscopyNOW.

Related Links

Lab Chip, 2014, in press: "Cholesterol testing on a smart phone"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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