Portable smartphone sensor identifies disease outbreaks, pollution

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Testing for carcinogens, pollution and contaminants involves an array of large and expensive sensors accompanied by a trained professional. Researchers have introduced, in ACS Sensors, a new detection system utilizing portable, low-cost sensors paired with a smartphone application to fast track results with high accuracy.

Disease and contamination sensors test for a multitude of factors but currently require an army of equipment and personnel to operate. The newly proposed sensor system uses pressure changes to notify when a biomarker is present. When the certain biomarker is identified, the device releases oxygen and builds pressure which is then measured by a portable barometer. Results are then calculated with smartphone software and presented in an easy-to-read format.

The immunosensors are able to detect carcinoembryonic antigens, a protein found in patients with colon or rectal cancer; ractopamine, an additive banned in many countries; thrombin, a marker for cardiovascular disease; and mercury, an identifier for environmental pollution.

In testing the system on sensitivity for the four identifiable measures, researchers found the results calculated by the smartphone software to be similar to results found with conventional methods. The quickly available results shown through the iPhone allow for quicker responses in real-time monitoring of pollution, disease outbreaks and food safety.