In the first glance, the news may seem futuristic; however the journal Lab on a Chip reports that graduate engineering students from Cornell University have developed a device and an accompanying smartphone application which basically converts any smartphone device into a cholesterol home testing kit.
High levels of blood cholesterol – higher than 200 mg/dL – are known medically to be precursors to cardiac disease. No wonder, for people suffering from high blood cholesterol levels, regular testing at their medical practitioners’ is a way of life – something they learn to live with eventually. Though mobile based apps for getting health advice from a practitioner are available, cholesterol testing demands a visit to a doctor. Home testing cholesterol kits are available in the market, which measure total blood cholesterol – without differentiating between the good High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and the bad Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterols.
For the uninitiated, when too much LDL (bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can result. HDL (good) cholesterol on the other hand, helps in preventing heart attacks by helping to remove arterial plaque and slowing its buildup.
The engineers at Cornell University have designed a device – they term the Smartphone Cholesterol Application for Rapid Diagnostics or smartCARD – which basically hooks onto the camera of a smartphone and an accompanying app which then runs the actual diagnostics. The setup is completed by specialized testing strips which can take readings off of blood, sweat and saliva.
David Erickson, Cornell associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior author on the peer-reviewed study says that “Smartphones have the potential to address health issues by eliminating the need for specialized equipment”. The present day camera optics on most smartphones is sufficed to support colorimetric analysis, which is the backbone of this technology. Erikson further adds that “What’s been transformative in the last few years is that now everybody is carrying around this incredibly powerful computer that they use all the time, are very familiar with, and have already paid for. By building simple systems that can use the features of the smartphone people are already carrying significantly lowers the cost to entry.”
For measuring cholesterol readings, the user simply puts a drop of blood on the cholesterol testing strip, which then processes the blood through separation steps and chemical reactions. The strip is then ready to undergo colorimetric analysis by the smartphone app, which reads the gradients of hues on the test strip and gives the output or reading on the phone itself.
Though currently the device measures total cholesterol, Erickson and his team are already working to get the device to provide HDL, LDL and triglyceride readings separately. The team is also working on enhancing the device to detect Vitamin D levels (necessary for calcium absorption in the body).They have already demonstrated smartphone tests for periodontitis (inflammation and infection of the ligaments and bones that support the teeth) as well as sweat electrolyte levels.
Erikson and his team have started their very own company – VitaMe Technologies and are planning to get all necessary approvals and launch the device within a year. The future for mobile health care and self-tests does look promising, especially when you would be able to use your phone to be able to take a complete health selfie – not just limited to cholesterol tests. In the meantime, take a look at our collection of health apps for Android.