One of the more practical ideas, however, may be a new dongle designed to turn any smartphone into a testing device for HIV and syphilis. Developed by researchers at Columbia University, the invention could replace the diagnostic tools called ELISA machines, which can cost thousands of dollars.
The $34 dongle works by carrying out an enzyme-based test for the antibodies associated with the two diseases. Users simply prick their finger and then place a drop of blood onto the plastic collector that comes with the device. A specially designed app provides a diagnosis in about 15 minutes.
The technology is promising for several reasons. First, it does not require a separate battery to work—it runs off a smartphone via a headphone jack attachment. Second, it works with a technology (smartphones) that is becoming increasingly popular in developing parts of the world, where the spread of HIV and other diseases is less controlled.
According to worldwide mobile usage stats from eMarketer, just under one-quarter of the world’s population will use smartphones this year—and this number is set to rise to one-third by 2017.
Unfortunately, there is still a way to go until this technology can be rolled out on a consumer level. During a small-scale user test in Rwanda, some individuals were given false-positive results, meaning that the dongle considered them to be infected when they actually were not.
While those results would be entirely unacceptable in a proper medical setting, this technology does at least suggest that—long term—the concept of diagnosis by smartphone (something that can already be carried out for various other ailments, such as strokes) is a real possibility.