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Researchers create tech that turns your smartphone into a medical diagnostic tool

The next time you need some blood work done at the lab, you may be able to simply use your smartphone. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Champagna-Urbana have developed the seemingly Star Trek-inspired TRI Analyzer, which is basically a mini-medical laboratory that plugs into your smartphone and uses the phone’s flash and camera to process blood, saliva, or urine samples.

“Our TRI Analyzer is like the Swiss Army knife of biosensing,” said Professor Brian Cunningham, whose team developed the clever device, in a statement. “It’s capable of performing the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics, so in practice, thousands of already-developed tests could be adapted to it.”

The device costs around $550, which makes it much less expensive than most lab tests that insurance companies claim cost thousands of dollars. The idea of having low-cost, on-demand medical testing devices that could be sold at a mall kiosk next to the car chargers and selfie sticks is pretty incredible. The portable lab could make rapid medical testing possible in, say, the back of an ambulance, in rural locations without access to labs, and on battlefields. The idea isn’t a totally new one, though. Back in 2015, a team from Columbia University developed a $34 model that plugged into the phone’s headphone jack  and could rapidly diagnose various maladies with about a 96% accuracy rate.

For more details, check out a new paper on the tool, “Multimode smartphone biosensing: the transmission, reflection, and intensity spectral TRI Analyzer,” which is available online.ML