Next generation smartphone technology capable of diagnostic biological detection
February 22, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Anyone with a smartphone will tell you they can do pretty much anything with it, from managing their stocks to using it as a flashlight..
But the latest applications for smartphones go beyond the conveniences of modern society--they save lives.
The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center is developing cellphone-based wide-field fluorescent imaging of microbeads for pathogen detection. In simpler terms, researchers are developing technology to collect a sample, analyze the results, geotag the location of the sample and send the results to a laboratory for further review--all from a smartphone.
Scientists at ECBC worked with a team at the University of California, Los Angeles, to adapt its prototype of a plastic, clip-on "microscope" to fit an Android phone, commonly used by the Army. This device clips directly over the smartphone camera and operates just like a microscope. The user collects a sample, slides it into the device and snaps a picture. An application downloaded to the phone will read the sample and analyze the results quickly, generating a clear positive or negative detection of the test agent.
The UCLA team is developing the hardware and the software for the device, with ECBC's team providing the diagnostic and detection assays that it will utilize.
"This takes the place of a standalone microscope and automates the process, which is perfect for Soldiers or clinicians who are in a remote area without access to a laboratory," said Patricia Buckley, a research biologist leading ECBC's effort on the project. "Computing in smartphones has grown to be so complex that it can actually replace the computer for these devices."
ECBC has partnered with Holomic, a small business in California, to develop a second hardware add-on that can take existing assays in the field and integrate them into the smartphone, making the results more user-friendly and available for archival within the biosurveillance community. This embodies the same concept of building an electronic database that can be clearly read and interpreted.
Usually there is a need for diagnostic and detection equipment that is then linked to a computer for analysis. Both of these technologies utilize equipment that is already in the Soldiers' repertoire, significantly reducing the need for additional heavy, expensive equipment and removing the need for a separate computer to run the components.
One of the most significant effects of this technology is that the results from either device can be stored in the phone and later added to a biosurveillance cloud database, allowing for an electronic archive of data that is available to anyone with access to the cloud. This is especially important because of the ability to tag the location from which the sample was taken, allowing for further surveillance and monitoring of that area.
The technology is designed for both military and civilian use.
"This is ideal for the Solider out in the field, in a remote area without a cell tower nearby. He or she can still capture the data and store it until it can be sent back to the command post," Buckley said. "It can also be valuable for clinics or hospitals in underdeveloped areas which may not have sophisticated testing equipment. They are more likely to be able to afford a device like this, which combines the ease and reliability of testing with the ability to communicate the results to a larger facility or organization."
The team is focused on biological diagnostic tests, with a current focus on testing blood and urine for Salmonella typhimurium, a causative agent for food poisoning. The team plans to add testing for four additional pathogens.
The ECBC, UCLA and Holomic teams will continue to develop these projects, fully funded by the Joint Science and Technology Office of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency or the Chemical Biological Medical Systems Joint Project Management Office, with plans to begin field tests of the prototypes throughout the country to determine their accuracy and ability to send and receive data.
"The coolest thing about this technology is that it's taking a common test that's done often in a laboratory and applying what we do here: reduce the size, reduce the cost and reduce the weight. All with a package that is already being used by civilians and Soldiers everywhere," Buckley said. "It's an exciting testament to the work we do here at ECBC in support of our mission."