Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs), typically small immunoassay strips on which blood or fluid samples are placed, are helping to make disease screening quicker and simpler for regions of the world where conventional medical tools are unavailable or unaffordable.
In a quest to improve this type of tool for early detection of infectious diseases, scientists at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA have developed an RDT reading device that works in unison with standard cell phones.
RDT strip results are usually analyzed by visually assessing a color change of the strip to indicate the presence of infection, similar to a home pregnancy test. Different tests can be used to detect various diseases, including malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and syphilis. Visual read is prone to error, particularly if various different tests are being used by the health care worker.
The new RDT-reader attachment is a small low-cost and lightweight device that clips onto virtually any cell phone, uses a special smart-phone app to take a picture of the test strip with the existing cell phone camera, and rapidly read the digitized RTD image to determine whether the test is valid and then if the results are positive or negative.
The RDT-reader platform can then wirelessly transmit the results of the tests to a global server, which processes and stores the images. The results are then charted using Google Maps to track the spread of various diseases and conditions, by geographic region and timeframe measures, throughout the world. The device has the ability to read nearly every type of RDT.
Implemented on both iPhones and Android-based smart-phones, the universal RDT reader and the mapping feature could significantly increase the ability to track emerging epidemics worldwide and aid in epidemic preparedness, the researchers say.