Chlamydia is somewhat of a silent STD — most people who are infected are not even aware of it. But if left untreated, it can cause permanent damage.

It's therefore critical for people who might have been exposed to the disease to get tested, but the cost of chlamydia screening has prevented it from becoming as available as it needs to be. In an effort to make chlamydia tests more widely accessible, researchers have developed a new screening device called mobiLab that attaches to smartphones. They presented their work at the 2015 AACC Annual Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo.

"We now have these pretty accurate, sensitive, and specific molecular assays, but a lot of these technologies are confined to being used in centralized lab settings," said researcher Dong Jin Shin, a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University, in a statement. "If we're able to bring molecular diagnostic technology closer to the clinic and deliver accurate results to clinicians sooner, then we'll be able to improve our standard of care for patients with chlamydia while also saving costs."

Both men and women can be infected with chlamydia, but the consequences for women are much more severe. The infection develops into pelvic inflammatory disease in up to 30 percent of women with chlamydia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia can also cause infertility and chronic pelvic pain in women, as well as potentially fatal ectopic pregnancies.

MobiLab is about the size of a coffee mug and is an all-in-one system that prepares the sample, screens it for DNA from the chlamydia bacteria, and processes the data. All the user needs to do is plug it into a smartphone, download the app, and provide a sample.

The device uses microfluidics cartridges that cost less than $2 each, making it much cheaper than currently available options. Trials comparing mobiLab to the most accurate tests used today suggest that this new method is just as reliable, in spite of its low cost.

The researchers hope that mobiLab will allow those in more non-traditional healthcare settings to utilize this technology so that both women and men will have more opportunities to get tested.

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