Researchers at Washington State University have devised an inexpensive, portable laboratory on a smartphone that is capable of spotting cancer biomarkers in several samples simultaneously.

WSU is fostering interdisciplinary science to make significant discoveries in the growing fields of biosensors and bioelectronics. This work feeds into the state of Washington’s strong life sciences sector, which comprises some 191 biopharma companies, 294 medical device companies and 78 non-profit research institutions working to promote and improve global health.

The team, led by Lei Li, assistant professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, is trying to translate biodetection technologies used in laboratories to the field, allowing for swift, accurate diagnoses in a doctor’s office, an ambulance or the emergency room. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and a WSU startup fund. It is in keeping with WSU’s Grand Challenges, a suite of research initiatives aimed at large societal issues, including the challenge of sustaining healthy communities.

While smartphone spectrometers already exist, they only monitor or measure a single sample at a time, making them inefficient for real world applications. WSU’s eight-channel smartphone spectrometer can detect human interleukin-6 (IL-6), a known biomarker for lung, prostate, liver, breast and epithelial cancers, measuring the light spectrum to detect traces of specific chemicals. It can measure up to eight different samples at once using a common test called ELISA, or colorimetric test enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, that identifies antibodies and colour change as disease markers.

Li said: “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. 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. They can’t carry a whole lab with them. They need a portable and efficient device.”

So far, the team has tested its smartphone spectrometer in the lab, with the device performing at around 99 per cent accuracy. The next step is to test it out in the real world, and expand the range of compatible phones for the technology beyond the iPhone 5, which is currently the only one it works with.

Featured image: Researchers at WSU have developed a portable spectrometer, which works with a smartphone to analyse multiple samples at once for signs of cancer (Credit: Washington State University)


(via: Washington State University and NewAtlas)