Smartphone cradle and app may detect bacteria, allergens

Kenny Long, a graduate researcher studying engineering and medicine at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign works with a handheld biosensor based on an iPhone, is shown in this June 21, 2013 photo in Urbana, Ill.
AP

URBANA, Ill.Afraid there may be peanuts or other allergens hiding in that cookie? Thanks to a cradle and app that turn your smartphone into a handheld biosensor, you may soon be able to run on-the-spot tests for food safety, environmental toxins, medical diagnostics and more.

The handheld biosensor was developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. A series of lenses and filters in the cradle mirror those found in larger, more expensive laboratory devices. Together, the cradle and app transform a smartphone into a tool that can detect toxins and bacteria, spot water contamination and identify allergens in food.

Kenny Long, a graduate researcher at the university, says the team was able to make the smartphone even smarter with modifications to the cell phone camera.

The cradle holds about $200 worth of optical components, but can perform as accurately as a $50,000 laboratory device, according to the researchers.

"Smartphones are making a big impact on our society - the way we get our information, the way we communicate. And they have really powerful computing capability and imaging," research team leader Brian T. Cunningham, a professor of bioengineering at the university, said in a May profile by the University of Illinois. "A lot of medical conditions might be monitored very inexpensively and noninvasively using mobile platforms like phones. They can detect molecular things, like pathogens, disease biomarkers or DNA, things that are currently only done in big diagnostic labs with lots of expense and large volumes of blood."

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has more information.