Device uses iPhone camera to test cholesterol

The test currently measures total cholesterol. The team is working to break out those numbers in LDL ("bad" cholesterol), HDL ("good" cholesterol), and triglyceride measurements. (Credit: Jason Koski/Cornell)

An iPhone app and an accessory that looks like a smartphone credit card reader can test your cholesterol in about a minute.

The Smartphone Cholesterol Application for Rapid Diagnostics, or “smartCARD,” uses the smartphone’s camera to read your cholesterol level.

“Smartphones have the potential to address health issues by eliminating the need for specialized equipment,” says David Erickson, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Cornell University and senior author of a new study.

Erickson and colleagues have created a smartphone accessory that optically detects biomarkers in a drop of blood, sweat, or saliva. The new application then discerns the results using color analysis.

When a user puts a drop of blood on the cholesterol test strip, it processes the blood through separation steps and chemical reactions. The strip is then ready for colorimetric analysis by the smartphone application.

The smartCARD accessory—which looks somewhat like a smartphone credit card reader—clamps over the phone’s camera. Its built-in flash provides uniform, diffused light to illuminate the test strip that fits into the smartCARD reader.

The application in the phone calibrates the hue saturation to the image’s color values on the cholesterol test strip, and the results appear on your phone.

Currently, the test measures total cholesterol. The Erickson lab is working to break out those numbers in LDL (“bad” cholesterol), HDL (“good” cholesterol), and triglyceride measurements. The lab is also working on detecting vitamin D levels, and has previously demonstrated smartphone tests for periodontitis and sweat electrolyte levels.

“By 2016, there will be an estimated 260 million smartphones in use in the United States. Smartphones are ubiquitous,” says Erickson, who adds that although smartCARD is ready to be brought to market immediately, he is optimistic that it will have even more advanced capabilities in less than a year.

“Mobile health is increasing at an incredible rate,” he concludes. “It’s the next big thing.”

The article appears in the journal Lab on a Chip. The National Science Foundation, the Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future funded the study.

Source: Cornell University