Your iPhone can test for STDs with this cheap dongle

Your iPhone can test for STDs with this cheap dongle

doctor in your pocket smartphone healthThis week’s Smart Health roundup features a smartphone accessory that tests for HIV and syphilis, a smart scarf to control your emotions and a temporary tattoo for testing glucose.


Smartphone dongle tests for HIV and Syphilis

Associate professor of biomedical engineering Samuel K. Sia and his team of researchers from the University of Columbia Engineering Department have developed a smartphone dongle that is able to replicate functions of lab-based blood tests and give results in just 15 minutes.

The smartphone dongle gets its energy when plugged into a smartphone jack and performs an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to test for HIV antibodies, treponemal-specific antibodies for syphilis, and non-treponemal antibodies for active syphilis infection. The dongle only cost $34, a very cheap price compared to the $18,450 cost of typical ELISA equipment.

The smartphone dongle was tested in a pilot program in Rwanda where health care workers were given a 30-minute tutorial as to how the device operates and how to use the accompanying app to get the results in just 15 minutes. The blood needed for the test via a single prick from 96 patients who were enrolling into the prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission clinics or voluntary counseling and testing centers.

“Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory,” says Sia. “Coupling microfluidics with recent advances in consumer electronics can make certain lab-based diagnostics accessible to almost any population with access to smartphones. This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the world.”

No information yet as to when the dongle will be available to the general public or at local hospitals or clinics.


Microsoft’s smart scarf

There are battery-operated scarves available in the market that deliver warmth, but a team of researchers from Microsoft developed a prototype scarf that heats up and vibrates depending on the wearer’s emotions.

Called the Sensing Whether Affect Requires Mediation (SWARM), the scarf consists of hexagon-shaped modules of industrial felt with conductive copper taffeta on top. Certain modules heat up or vibrate, and one master module that connects to a smartphone app enables the wearer to control its function using the smartphone.

The prototype was demoed at a Stanford University conference and there’s no telling if this will ever see the light of day outside the research lab, but it could be beneficial for people facing a great deal of stress. SWARM can one day be fitted with sensors for stress and other emotions and automatically deliver warmth, vibrations, coolness or even music to alter the mood of the wearer.


Temporary tattoo for testing glucose levels

Amay Bandodkar and his colleagues in Professor Joseph Wang’s laboratory at the NanoEngineering Department and the Center for Wearable Sensors at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego have developed and tested a temporary tattoo embedded with sensors that are able to test glucose levels in the interstitial fluid or the fluid between cells. Though the tattoo currently doesn’t deliver a numerical readout that can easily be understood by the layperson (the device for that is currently being developed), the team sees huge potential for this technology to monitor other metabolites or even be used to deliver medication.

The tattoo is able to last a day and only costs a few cents to reproduce, but Bandodkar and his team are working on a way to make the tattoo last longer without hiking up the cost of production. Bandodkar sees the biggest opportunity in using this technology to provide more information regarding diabetes, as well as monitoring dietary intake to prevent the development of diabetes for those who are at risk.

 Image by juhansonin, via Flickr Creative Commons