The U.S. National Science Foundation awards a $3 million grant to Cornell University researchers to develop smartphone apps and accessories that detect nutritional deficiencies, stress levels and HIV.
Two billion people in the world suffer from malnutrition. It accounts for 11% of the worldwide burden of disease, according to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.
About 2.6 million children deaths annually are linked to nutritional deficiencies – a full third of all child deaths worldwide.
Despite these numbers, malnutrition has relatively fallen under the radar for health agencies, and the shortcomings in addressing malnutrition is a major underlying reason why many countries are failing to meet many Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially in the developing world.
Researchers in the tech sector are investigating how mobile health, or mHealth, can augment traditional strategies such as food fortification.
One group of scientists at Cornell University are creating mobile health phone accessories and apps using lab-on-chip technologies to detect nutritional deficiencies.
They have just been given a five-year grant worth $3 million by the National Science Foundation to develop these health monitoring mobile phones to be used in places with limited resources.
The grant will fund the PHeNoM (Public Health, Nanotechnology, and Mobility) program that is developing at least three types of mobile health systems:
- The Nutri-Phone for nutritional awareness
- The Stress-Phone for stress management
- A Hema-Phone for monitoring viral loading in HIV positive patients.
For now, the group is focusing on how the Nutri-Phone – consisting of a mobile health smartphone accessory, an app, and a test strip – can accurately detect vitamin D deficiency.
The accessory is attached over the phone’s camera lens, which captures an image of the attached test strip with a blood sample.
The mobile health app processes the
“colorimetric detection of 25-hydroxyvitamin D using a novel gold nanoparticle-based immunoassay,”
according to a study made by the group.
The findings reveal that their point-of-care kit is equally accurate to well-established ELISA test kits performed in large laboratories.
The phone can be used by any consumer who is interested if they are getting enough vitamin D, and not necessarily only for patients with known deficiency symptoms.
“Almost everyone is deficient in vitamin D, but most people don’t think about it,”
“If you could use your phone to see how deficient you are, you might be more likely to take a supplement, or get more sun,”
David Erickson, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, said in a statement. He leads the PHeNoM team of researchers from Cornell, Cornell Weill Medical College, Cornell NYC Tech, the University of California Los Angeles, and the the University of Maryland.
Erickson and his colleagues envision the Nutri-Phone to eventually become capable of detecting deficiencies of many other multivitamins and micronutrients such as vitamin A, B12 and iron using their novel gold nanoparticle-based immunoassay test on the smartphone.
He said that the Nutri-Phone can be especially helpful in developing countries where malnutrition is prevalent.
“We believe that the science and technology enabled by the PHeNoM program will ultimately lead to widespread access to the wealth of health information obtainable from lab-on-chip technology,”
Erickson said in the statement.
“This could fundamentally alter the domestic healthcare landscape by enabling earlier stage detection of disease, reducing the cost of public healthcare delivery and allowing individuals to take better control of their own well-being.”
The PHeNoM team will also develop the Hema-Phone which can read blood test strips that can quickly detect the viral load of HIV patients, and the Stress-Phone which will utilize the phone’s microphone to analzye stress levels in a user’s speech pattern.
The program is built on previous work done by Erickson and Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, which created the smartCARD mobile phone accessory and app. That system analyzes changes to colors on a test strip with a drop of blood to measure cholesterol levels.
Erickson was also behind another smartphone diagnostic invention –
“a new optical sensor that plugs in to a smartphone and, using disposable microfluidic chips, allows for inexpensive in-the-field diagnosis of Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer linked to AIDS,”
featured in 2013 by ScienceDaily.
In a recent paper, Erickson and his co-authors wrote that both the advancement of lab-on-chip technologies, and the ubiquitous nature of mobile phones, mobile health accessories and software apps is “transforming the biomedical landscape.”
“We believe that the widespread availability of smartphone technology and the capabilities they offer in terms of computation, communication, social networking, and imaging will be transformative to the deployment of lab-on-a-chip type technology both in the developed and developing world,”