Smartphone-based lab tool promises faster, cheaper cancer detection

Image courtesy of Washington State University

A smartphone-based multichannel spectrometer and app can analyze several lab samples simultaneously for cancer biomarker detection and works as well as traditional lab analysis, according to researchers from Washington State University.

The portable lab device, built on an iPhone 5 and developed by the WSU researchers, promises a speedier, and more cost-effective biodetection approach. A study on the tool’s development, published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, notes current smartphone spectrometers only monitor or measure one sample at a time.

“For the first time, we demonstrate a multichannel smartphone spectrometer [MSS] as an optical biosensor that can simultaneously optical sense multiple samples,” state the study's authors, who describe the device’s 3-D cradle as being integrated with optical components, and a multi-view app that controls optical sensing parameters. “Compared to the standard laboratory instrument, the results sufficiently showed that this MSS can achieve the comparative analysis detection limits, accuracy and sensitivity.

The authors say they envision that the biosensor will be useful in high-throughput point-of-care diagnostics thanks to "its minimizing size, light weight, low cost and data transmission function."

The device has proven 99 percent accurate and the research team, led by Lei Li, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, is applying it to real world diagnostic situations.

"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," he says, according to an announcement. "They can't carry a whole lab with them. They need a portable and efficient device."

Another smartphone device designed by Ralph Weissleder, Ph.D., director of the Center for Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleague Hakho Lee, Ph.D., promises to slash today's cancer diagnosis to an hour, decrease a patient's anxiety level regarding potential illness and drive faster treatment, especially in remote regions across the world. The device allows physicians to assess and analyze cells from a blood sample, biopsy or Pap smear via the phone's high-resolution imaging technology using a small slide that is clipped onto the smartphone.