Smartphone spectrometers that can detect cancer biomarkers exist, but previous versions have been inefficient and impractical for use in the field. According to researchers from the Washington State University School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, these designs can only test one sample at a time. A team run by Lei Li, an assistant professor at WSU, has developed a multichannel smartphone spectrometer that promises to make mobile cancer screening practical. Li documented the team’s work in a report in Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

The WSU team has tested its design with standard laboratory samples with 99 percent accuracy. A smartphone multichannel spectrometer will make it possible for healthcare professionals to obtain almost-instant results from screenings at any location, whether in a hospital, doctor’s office, or field clinic. The eight-channel spectrometer detects human interleukin-6, a “known biomarker for lung, prostate, liver, breast, and epithelial cancers.” The system uses a light panel to project light through a 96-well microplate and a microprism array that holds tissue samples through a diffraction grating. The smartphone camera sensor can read the samples with a test colorimetric test called ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). ELISA can read both antibodies and color change as disease marker.

With previous work only in labs, the WSU researchers are now taking their testing to the field. The current design works with just the iPhone 5 but they are developing an adjustable version to work with any smartphone with a camera. “The spectrometer would be especially useful in clinics and hospitals that have a large number of samples without on-site labs, or for doctors who practice abroad or in remote areas,” Li said. “They can’t carry a whole lab with them. They need a portable and efficient device.”