Using a Smartphone to Detect a Contagious Virus

3D medical virus cells

With all the studies claiming how smartphones have changed our lives for the worse and how radiation from a phone can end up killing you, it is quite a surprise to see scientists recommending smartphone use.

A recent study shows that a smartphone, along with a piece of paper, can be used to detect even the lowest levels of the Norovirus.

The Norovirus is the leading cause of most foodborne diseases in the United States. Being the cause of almost 20 million gastroenteritis cases each year, the contagious virus is something that should be turning heads.

Responsible for more than 1.9 million visits to the hospital every year, it was time that scientists figured out what to do with this virus because even at deficient levels, the contagion had the strength to cause infections in healthy individuals.

A team of scientists from the University of Arizona set out to address the issue and found that a cheap and efficient way to detect the low levels of the virus was via a smartphone.

How Does it Work?

The Norovirus is a disease that spreads very quickly through the water — typically detection has required highly advanced radiation detectors, microscopes, spectrometers, and lasers.

However, now the levels of the virus are measured by attaching beads of fluorescent polystyrene and then adding water to the other end of a microfluidic chip. Each bead on the paper is attached to an antibody that functions against the virus.

In the presence of Norovirus, there are several antibodies required to deal with it – a higher population of antibodies. Due to this concentrated amount of antibodies, a cluster of fluorescent beads is formed – showing the presence of antibodies as well as the Norovirus.

How and where is the smartphone involved here? The next step.

By creating the microfluidic chip and allowing for the fluorescent beads to come out of their hiding, you now have bigger detectable beads that can be scanned by the camera of your smartphone.

Your job in this entire process is to load the beads onto the microfluidic chip. Other than that, you require nothing to evaluate the results, as the analysis is done automatically by the smartphone app.

This cheap and efficient method to detect the virus is something that can change the dynamics of healthcare. 

In the end, it still surprises me how smart our smartphones actually are.


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