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New technology allows your smartphone to test your blood samples for DNA

A new technology has been developed that can use a smartphone to power a DNA detector for blood or urine samples.

Ming Chen from the Army Medical Unit in China and his colleagues have developed a portable detector device that attaches to a standard smartphone, that is made out of 3D printed parts, and can detect DNA based on characteristic mutations or short genetic sequences.

Currently, genetic tests require expensive lab equipment, but the new device costs under $10 to make, weighs only 60 grams and takes just 80 minutes to produce a result. Tests have shown that the device can detect conditions such as thalassemia in the blood and identified E. Coli bacteria in urine, milk, and river water.

The device works by loading a sample into the detector and it is mixed with pre-filled chemicals that light up or change colour if there are any DNA matches. The smartphone heats the detector, and the signals are detected through a lens and lightbox and the results will be displayed on the smartphone.

The accuracy of the device also proved to be about 97% compared with standard lab methods. The researchers have indicated the device could be modified to identify RNA, which could help identify viruses such as the COVID-19 virus and play a role in both routine diagnostic testing and aid the tests of future pandemics.

Despite the technology potentially being groundbreaking and disruptive, the technology has to be coupled with clinical care, as it could cause undue worry or distress if people don’t have access to the support or guidance needed if they test positive for a given illness.


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Diagnostics / Digital Health / Liquid Biopsy