Scientists have created a smartphone accessory that can test liquid samples for disease. This device, called the TRI Analyzer, costs $550, and it puts the medical testing laboratory in the palm of your hand. Researchers at the University of Illinois created the spectral-analysis device using a 3D printer and some fantastic engineering. The TR Analyzer can process samples of blood, saliva or urine using the light from your phone’s flash and the optics from your phone’s camera.
Project director Professor Brian Cunningham said of the TRI Analyzer:
“It is capable of performing the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics, so in practice, thousands of already-developed tests could be adapted to it.”
In a recently published paper, the research team used the TRI Analyzer to perform two commercially available tests: a test to detect a biomarker associated with pre-term birth in pregnant women, and the PKU test for newborns to indirectly detect an enzyme essential for normal growth and development. The test results were comparable to those acquired with clinic-grade spectrometer instrumentation.
The device works by transforming the phone’s camera into a high-performance spectrometer. Specifically, the analyzer illuminates a sample fluid with the phone’s internal white LED flash or with an inexpensive external green laser diode. The light from the sample is collected in an optical fiber and guided into the phone’s rear-facing internal camera. These optical components are all arranged within a 3D-printed plastic cradle.
The implications of inexpensive, on-demand, consumer-led testing are immense. Patients who cannot travel to labs would be able to provide doctors with test results. Clinics without access to full-size labs would be able to provide in-house testing without purchasing extensive equipment. Researchers also believe that the TRI Analyzer will be able to process drug tests, so no more waiting to get hired or fired. It will also have applications in environmental monitoring and food safety.