Tech Transfer eNews Blog

UCLA researchers develop smartphone device that can rapidly test blood samples for disease


By David Schwartz
Published: August 12th, 2015

Researchers at the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed a mobile device and app that can identify antigens such as viruses and bacteria in blood samples.

The technology works with enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay, or ELISA, a diagnostic tool widely used in hospitals that takes blood samples to detect a number of diseases such as HIV, West Nile virus and hepatitis B. The UCLA device can read ELISA plates in the field with the same level of accuracy as the large machines typically found in clinical labs.

“It is quite important to have these kinds of mobile devices, especially for administering medical tests that are usually done in a hospital or clinical laboratory,” says Aydogan Ozcan, associate director of the NanoSystems Institute and head researcher behind the new device. “This mobile platform can be used for point-of-care testing, screening populations for particular diseases, or tracking vaccination campaigns in most resource-poor settings,” Ozcan says.

In traditional ELISA testing, samples are placed in small, transparent, honeycomb-like plates that have 96 tiny wells, followed by small amounts of fluid containing specific antibodies that bind to antigens in the samples. The antibodies are linked to enzymes which change color when a chemical reaction is triggered by the presence of antigens.  

The new 3D-printed device can be attached to a smartphone to illuminate the ELISA plate with an array of light-emitting diodes. The light is projected through each well and then collected by 96 individual plastic optical fibers in the attachment. A custom designed mobile app allows the smartphone to send the resulting images to UCLA servers, which then analyze the ELISA plate using a machine-learning algorithm that the researchers developed for the app. Within a minute, the diagnostic results for the entire 96-well plate are sent back to the phone and displayed for the user on a visualizer.

In a trial with a total of 571 patient samples used, the technology achieved 99.6% accuracy in diagnosing mumps, 98.6% for measles, and 99.4% each for herpes simplex 1 and 2.

The multidisciplinary research team behind the device includes UCLA faculty in electrical engineering, physics and astronomy, bioengineering, pathology and laboratory medicine, and surgery.

“Our team is focused on developing biomedical technologies that work with mobile platforms to assist with on-site testing and healthcare in disadvantaged or rural areas,” says Brandon Berg, a UCLA undergrad and the research study’s first author.

Dino Di Carlo, UCLA professor of bioengineering and co-developer of the device, comments, “We are always looking toward the next innovation and are looking to adapt the basic design of this ELISA cell phone reader to create smartphone-based quantified readers for other important medical tests.”

Source: UCLA Newsroom

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