New app turns smartphone into portable medical diagnosis device

The smartphone in your pocket, which probably gets more use as a mini-computer than a telephone, could be a key piece of the future of medicine, thanks to a new app that allows it to be used as a portable medical diagnosis device, making it easier and faster to monitor medical conditions.

Today's mobile phones are so much more than just communications devices, and when combined with their onboard camera and a new application, might be an effective way to measure, analyze, and then transmit medical data from patients to their doctors.

The new app, which was developed at the University of Cambridge, is dubbed Colorimetrix, and it uses the camera on a smartphone to accurately analyze colorimetric (color-based) medical tests. These colorimetric tests are used to monitor a patient's urine, saliva or other bodily fluid for medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and urinary tract infections, and are available for home and field use.

The weak point of such colorimetric tests is in the interpretation, as they can be difficult to read accurately and are prone to false readings, leading to the possibility in faulty diagnosis and treatment. The Colorimetrix app is said to make the reading of these test much more accurate, by using the camera and an algorithm which converts the data from the tests into a numerical value, which can be viewed on the screen or sent to a healthcare professional for further interpretation or analysis.

"The Colorimetrix test analyser is an app that turns any smartphone into a portable spectrophotometer, allowing semi-quantitative measurement of colorimetric test strips or solutions. It uses the smartphone’s camera to automatically read commercial and research colorimetric tests, using an ingeniously designed mathematical algorithm. The test results may be stored on the smartphone, analysed for trends or emailed." - Colorimetrix

The app, which will be available for both iOS and Android platforms, is claimed to accurately report protein, pH, and glucose from standard commercially available urine test strips, without the need for any other hardware.

According to the researchers who developed the app, it could eventually lead to better monitoring of diseases in the developing world, and possibly slow or limit the reach of pandemics:

"This app has the potential to help in the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in the developing world, bringing the concept of mobile healthcare to reality. By quickly getting medical data from the field to doctors or centralised laboratories, it may help slow or limit the spread of pandemics." - Ali Yetisen, lead researcher and PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology

And the app isn't limited to medical diagnosis for humans, either, as it could be used as an adjunct to other laboratory kits, veterinary diagnostics and tools for environmental monitoring.

Colorimetrix is currently in beta, and only on the Android platform, but those who wish to try it out for research purposes can request a copy of the app here.

Tags: Health | Technology