Cornell University engineers have developed a new lifesaving app using sophisticated camera technology that will help smartphone users quickly check their cholesterol levels in around a minute.

The smartphone Cholesterol Application For Rapid Diagnostics (smartCARD) reads the user’s cholesterol level accurately in about a minute unlike the complicated, home cholesterol-testing devices.

Cornell associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior author on a new peer-reviewed study David Erickson said: “Smartphones have the potential to address health issues by eliminating the need for specialised equipment.”

Erickson and his colleagues have created a smartphone accessory that optically detects biomarkers in a drop of blood, sweat or saliva. The new application then discerns the results using colour analysis.

The cholesterol test strip processes a drop of blood put on a test strip through separation steps and chemical reactions, which is then ready for colorimetric analysis by the Smartphone application.

The smartCARD accessory, which looks similar to a smartphone credit card reader, clamps over the phone’s camera. Its built-in flash provides uniform, diffused light to illuminate the test strip that fits into the smartCARD reader.

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It calibrates the hue saturation in the phone to the image’s colour values on the cholesterol test strip, and the results appear on the phone.

“Smartphones have the potential to address health issues by eliminating the need for specialised equipment.”

At present, the test measures total cholesterol. However, the Erickson lab is working to configure those numbers in LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol) and triglyceride measurements.

Cornell has previously demonstrated smartphone tests for periodontitis and sweat electrolyte levels. It is also working on ways to detect vitamin D levels.

Erickson added that although smartCARD is ready to be brought to market immediately, he is optimistic that it will have even more advanced capabilities in less than a year.

The peer-reviewed study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Engineering Research Council of Canada and Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

The article ‘Cholesterol Testing on a Smartphone’ was co-authored by Vlad Oncescu and Matthew Mancuso, Cornell graduate students in the field of engineering. It appeared online in the journal Lab on a Chip.

Image: Cholesterol can be detected using an app on a smartphone. Photo: courtesy of zirconicusso at