Engineers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) have created a credit card-sized portable lab that can plug into a mobile phone and diagnose infectious diseases including coronavirus, malaria, HIV or Lyme disease.

The information is then connected automatically to a doctor’s office through a custom app that gives nearly instant results.

To use the device, a patient simply puts a single-use plastic lab chip into their mouth and plugs that into a slot in the box to test their saliva.

The developers claim the device can also diagnose other health conditions, including mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The system was originally developed to test for malaria, but could potentially be used for point-of-care testing for several chronic or infectious diseases or to measure stress-related hormones.

The chip uses natural capillary action – the tendency for liquid to adhere to a surface – to draw a sample down two channels of a microchannel capillary flow assay. One channel mixes the sample with freeze-dried detection antibodies, while the other contains a freeze-dried luminescent material to read the results when the split samples combine again on three sensors.

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By GlobalData

The novel design of the tiny channels naturally draw the sample through sensor arrays using capillary flow.

UC doctoral student Sthitodhi Ghosh said: “The entire test takes place on the chip automatically. You don’t have to do anything. This is the future of personal healthcare.”

The developers described the device as accurate, simple to use and inexpensive.

UC professor of electrical engineering Chong Ahn said: “The performance is comparable to laboratory tests. The cost is cheaper. And it’s user-friendly. We wanted to make it simple so anyone could use it without training or support.”