The spectral transmission-reflectance-intensity (TRI)-Analyzer attaches to a smartphone and analyzes patient blood, urine, or saliva samples as reliably as clinic-based instruments that cost thousands of dollars.
Researchers have developed technology that enables a smartphone to perform lab-grade medical diagnostics.

The new spectral transmission-reflectance-intensity (TRI) analyzer costs only $550 and can perform the same tests as the large, expensive medical equipment doctors have relied on.

Once attached to a smartphone, it can analyze blood, urine, and saliva samples as reliably as clinic-based instruments that cost thousands of dollars

'Our TRI Analyzer is like the Swiss Army knife of biosensing,' said Brian Cunningham, director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Lab at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who worked on the study.

'It's capable of performing the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics, so in practice, thousands of already-developed tests could be adapted to it.'

In a recent paper published in the journal Lab on a Chip and supported by the National Science Foundation, Cunningham and his team used the TRI Analyzer to perform two tests.

The first was to detect a biomarker associated with pre-term birth in pregnant women.

The second was a PKU test for newborns, meant to indirectly detect an enzyme essential for normal growth and development.

By simply hooking the TRI Analyzer to a smartphone, the team obtained results comparable to those that would be achieved with current clinic-grade equipment.

'The TRI Analyzer is more of a portable laboratory than a specialized device,' said Kenny Long, an MD/PhD student and lead author of the research study.

The device is quite versatile and can perform an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA, test, which can detect and measures a wide variety of proteins and antibodies in blood and is used for a range of health tests.

Essentially, any test that uses a liquid that changes color or that generates light output can be performed with the device.

These types of tests are possible due to the way the TRI Analyzer uses the attached phone's rear-facing camera.

It essentially treats it like a high-resolution spectrometer, illuminating the fluid sample with the phone's flash.

Then the light from the sample is collected in an optical fiber and guided through a diffraction grating, leading to the results.

'Our Analyzer can scan many tests in a sequence by swiping the cartridge past the readout head, in a similar manner to the way magnetic strip credit cards are swiped,' said Long.
Similarly, Apple is working on a way to take users' health measurements using the iPhone.

A patent granted to the company earlier this week details how the front-facing camera along with the light, proximity and other sensors found in the company's existing phone's could potentially measure body fat, perform electrocardiogram (ECG) readings and even estimate the user's emotional state.

It could also theoretically monitor breathing and detect circulatory conditions.

'Electrical measurements may be used to measure heart function, compute an electrocardiogram, compute a galvanic skin response that may be indicative of emotional state and/or other physiological condition, and/or compute other health data such as body fat, or blood pressure,' the patent says.

With just the camera and light sensor alone, data for oxygen saturation, pulse rate, perfusion index and a photoplethysmogram (which can monitor breathing rate and detect circulatory conditions) could all be captured.

Further down, the patent describes how the technology could be used for a large variety of health purposes.

'The health data may include one or more of a variety of different wellness, fitness, and/or other parameters relating to the health of a user such as: a blood pressure index, a blood hydration, a body fat content, an oxygen saturation, a pulse rate, a perfusion index, an electrocardiogram, a photoplethysmogram, and/or any other such health data,' it reads.

It's unclear what exactly Apple plans to do with the patent and when, so currently, the technology remains hypothetical.