Smartphones always continue to advance and now researchers have been able to create an accessory for smartphones that can perform a lab-based blood test.

The accessory was developed by biomedical engineers from Columbia Engineering in the United States. It can test blood and diagnose HIV and Syphilis in just 15 minutes.

This means that no matter where you are, no matter what country you live in, you have access to a medical lab of your own using your smartphone. This also means that a doctor can begin treatment in just 15 minutes. This makes this advancement truly remarkable when you think about how long blood tests can take, and how much this hampers the survival rate for serious diseases.

The device performs a test known as an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (AKA ELISA). This test checks for three antibodies; two of which are related to Syphilis as well as the one for HIV.

The team call this accessory a dongle and it doesn’t even need any external power. It takes all the power it needs from the phone, like a USB device in a computer.

 HIV accessory

Samuel K. Sia, the engineer in charge of creating the device, believes that their work shows an immunoassay can be run through a smartphone accessory via a Columbia Engineering release.

Samuel believes that this advancement will alter the way that people around the world are diagnosed and treated. It uses a combination of microfluidics and the advancement in consumer electronics to allow anyone with a smartphone to give a lab-based diagnosis.

The device is currently being piloted in Rwanda. Health-care workers there have tested it on 96 patients in their programs designed to stop infectious diseases spreading from mother to child in utero. The results were available in 15 minutes and there was a 92% success rate.

97% of the people tested said they also preferred the dongle test over lab tests as the dongle test was so much easier. It only takes 30 minutes to learn how to use the dongle properly. The results of this initial trial have been published in Science Translational Medicine for the world to see.

There are a lot of features packed in to the device but Sia has done everything he can to make sure it works properly while still being cheap enough for people in developing countries with limited power.

The dongle uses a simple ‘one-push vacuum’ rather than using an electrical pump to run the assay. This saves on the amount of power used to run the test. The team also developed a way to use the headphone jack on the smartphone to transfer data and power. This enables the device to run on any smartphone, whether it be Android or iPhone.

When you consider that the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 have different chargers this level of cross-platform compatibility is awesome. It’s also far cheaper than the usual $18,450 you’d spend on ELISA equipment. It’s expected to cost just $34 to manufacture.

Sia says that the dongle his team created gives new capabilities to everyone; from health-care providers to regular consumers. Through this level of quick detection and ease he expects syphilis related deaths could be decreased 10-fold. It also allows workers the chance to issue a large scale HIV test and test a whole community of people at once, and speed up how quickly they are treated to further prevent the spread of the disease. The way to kill HIV off for good is to stop it spreading.

Sia is excited about where this product can go and the good it can do. He is also keen to explore how the technology can help the people not just in Rwanda and other developing countries, but back here at home too.

So are we.