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Washington State University researchers have developed a low-cost portable smartphone based lab that can detect cancer with 99 per cent accuracy.

The device works by detecting human interleukin-6 (IL-6), a known biomarker for lung, prostate, liver, breast and epithelial cancers. While smartphone-based spectrometers have been developed to detect diseases, they can only monitor or measure a single sample at a time and this makes them inefficient for real world applications. A spectrometer analyses the amount and type of chemicals in a sample by measuring the light spectrum.

To address this limitation, researchers at WSU developed the new portable laboratory using a smartphone that can analyse several samples at once to catch the cancer biomarker with 99 per cent accuracy. According to details provided by WSU, the new multichannel spectrometer can measure up to eight different samples at once using a common test called ELISA, or colourimetric test enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, that identifies antibodies and colour change as disease markers.

The initial tests were done in lab conditions, the device has registered 99 per cent accuracy and now scientists are applying their portable spectrometer in real world situations.

Scientists are optimistic that their spectrometer will be very useful in remote areas where clinics and hospitals do not have on-site labs to detect cancers and for doctors who are practising at some of the most areas where there is no possibility of developing full-fledged labs to detect cancer and other diseases.

Currently the lab only works with iPhone 5, but scientists have said that they are working on a flexible lab that can support any smartphone.

The study, “A multichannel smartphone optical biosensor for high-throughput point-of-care diagnostics” is published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

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