Smartphone Cancer Detection

Researchers from Washington State University have just developed alow-cost, portable laboratory on a smartphone that can analyze several samples at once to catch a cancer biomarker, producing lab quality results.

But don't expect to be downloading it from iTunes anytime soon.

The crucial component to the portable lab is an eight channel smartphone spectrometer that can detect human interleukin-6. This is a biomarker, or measurable indicator, for lung, prostate, liver, breast and epithelial cancers.

A smartphone spectrometer is nothing new, but the current ones on the market only monitor or measure a single sample at a time. In the real world, outside of a lab, that's just not fast or efficient enough. The target market here is the clinic, physician's office, ambulance or emergency room. The aim is to get patients a nearly instant diagnosis.

“The spectrometer would be especially useful in clinics and hospitals that have a large number of samples without on-site labs, or for doctors who practice abroad or in remote areas,” said Lei Li, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at WSU. “They can’t carry a whole lab with them. They need a portable and efficient device.”

Li's multichannel spectrometer can measure up to eight different samples at once. It uses a common test called ELISA, or colorimetric test enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, that identifies antibodies and color change as disease markers.

“With our eight channel spectrometer, we can put eight different samples to do the same test, or one sample in eight different wells to do eight different tests. This increases our device’s efficiency,” said Li, who has filed a provisional patent for the work.

The research team has so far only used the smartphone spectrometer with standard lab-controlled samples. With those, the machine has been up to 99 percent accurate. They are now looking ahead to applying their portable spectrometer in real world situations.

Li’s design works with an iPhone 5, so for all of its first, it's still a mite behind the times. He is creating an adjustable design that will be compatible with any smartphone.

The research has been published in he journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.