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Life-saving selfies

Sarina Tracy, sarina.tracy@photonics.com

Raise your iPhone in front of you, open the camera, strike a pose, make a face and take a picture. Voilà! You’ve taken a selfie, one of those smartphone self-portraits plastered on Instagram and Facebook by teens and adults alike. Whether meant to capture a moment, an emotion or even an outfit, these forms of self-expression previously were harnessed for documentation purposes only – now, however, they just might save your life.

A new device attached to your smartphone can now use the camera to read your cholesterol level in 60 seconds.

Looking much like a smartphone credit-card reader, the Smartphone Cholesterol Application for Rapid Diagnostics (smartCARD) clamps over the phone’s camera and optically detects biomarkers in a drop of blood, sweat or saliva on a fitted test strip through separation steps and chemical reactions. Its built-in flash provides uniform, diffused light to illuminate the test strip, while the phone’s application discerns the results using color analysis. An application in the phone calibrates the hue saturation to the image’s color values on the cholesterol test strip, and the results appear on the phone.


Cornell graduate students Matthew Mancuso, left, and Vlad Oncescu demonstrate the smartCARD on an iPhone. Courtesy of Cornell University.

Created by engineers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., the smartCARD device bypasses clumsy, complicated home-cholesterol-testing devices and uses equipment found in 20 percent of pockets worldwide.

“Smartphones have the potential to address health issues by eliminating the need for specialized equipment,” said David Erickson, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Cornell. “By 2016, there will be an estimated 260 million smartphones in use in the United States. Smartphones are ubiquitous.”

Although the smartCARD is ready to be brought to market immediately, Erickson is optimistic that it will have even more advanced capabilities in less than a year.

“Mobile health is increasing at an incredible rate,” he said. “It’s the next big thing.”


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