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Home Diagnostic Kit Can Detect Drugs In Blood And Urine Using Silicon Chips And An iPhone

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Silicon chips. A new diagnostic system proposed by researchers from Vanderbilt University uses a smartphone to test for drugs, infection, or bacteria in a liquid sample. An app will handle the data processing and perform diagnosis.   ( Vanderbilt University/Heidi Hall )

A team of researchers from Vanderbilt University created a simple home diagnostics test that uses an item that many American adults already own: an iPhone.

Sharon Weiss, a Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Engineering, and her students, in a new study, reported the development of low-cost porous silicon chips that work with a smartphone.

"The novelty lies in the simplicity of the basic idea, and the only costly component is the smart phone," said Weiss in a press release.

Home Diagnostic Testing With A Smartphone

Using the technology is simple: the first thing to do is add the sample liquid (blood, urine, or water) onto the specially coated silicon and take a photo of it using a smartphone. A special app will analyze the image and detect if there is a problem.

"With our nanoscale porous silicon, we've created these nanoscale holes that are a thousand times smaller than your hair," explained Weiss. "Those selectively capture molecules when pre-treated with the appropriate surface coating, darkening the silicon, which the app detects."

The researchers claimed that they have tried out the technology and they received promising results. They tested out a biotin-streptavidin protein assay on the silicon films and an iPhone SE to perform the diagnostics.

For the experiment, they also used a 3D-printed box that would stabilize the smartphone and get standardized measurements. This, however, would not be necessary during real-life applications.

They said that the accuracy is equal to that of benchtop measurement systems.

Simple, Cheap, Accessible

The technology introduced by the team offers an alternative to the mass spectrometry systems, like those used in airports to detect gunpowder, which costs thousands of dollars. Whereas similar devices rely on expensive hardware, this new system only needs one expensive equipment, a smartphone, to perform the diagnostics.

Other home diagnostic kits, meanwhile, rely on color change caused by chemical reaction, which, according to the researchers, might not be as realiable.

Weiss and her team still need to perform further research and further develop the system before it becomes available in the market. The researchers published their study in Analyst, one of the journals from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

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