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Touchscreens to Diagnose Diseases, Cut Healthcare Costs

January 29, 2012
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Smartphones could soon detect cancer and other diseases, enabling cost-effective, on-the-spot medical testing outside the confines of a traditional medical lab.
Scientists at Korea Advanced Institute of Science of Technology “confirmed” Monday today’s ultra-sensitive touchscreens can detect biomolecular material as well as traditional medical testing equipment. The German science journal “Angewandte Chemie” published the results of KAIST’s research.
Capacitive touchscreens work by sensing the electronic charges from a user’s body on the screen’s surface. Biochemical materials, such as DNA and proteins, carry similar electrical charges.
The KAIST researchers’ experiments showed touchscreens can recognize both the existence and the concentration of DNA molecules placed on them, an early foray into using touchscreens on smartphones and tablets to perform medical tests.
Medical testing equipment used to diagnose cancer and other diseases is expensive and rarely found outside a medical laboratory. Healthcare organizations looking for ways to reduce medical costs and improve the efficiency of the diagnostic process will likely welcome a way to shorten and streamline the testing process.
Mobile devices are on the rise in clinical settings, with many doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel turning to them to research conditions, communicate with patients, and get alerts about workflow, scheduling, and medical claims. If KAIST’s discovery takes hold, they may soon use the devices they carry in their pockets to perform on-the-spot medical tests and speed diagnoses as well.
Mobile medical testing could also help improve care in remote areas. In places with no medical lab or hospital close by, physicians must send biological materials to a testing facility or ask patients to travel to an area where testing equipment is available, then wait for the results they need to make a diagnosis.
This process can take days and incur high costs, making the possibility of touchscreen medical testing an attractive alternative to a traditional laboratory.
KAIST’s touchscreen results are only the first step in making mobile medical testing reality. The researchers are also developing a film that reacts to biomolecular materials, so a single touch screen can accurately recognize a variety of different materials. This, combined with today’s sensitive touchscreen technology, could turn smartphones in to mobile medical labs.
Smartphones already can manage a variety of conditions. People can test their blood glucose, measure their blood oxygen level, and record their blood pressure using an iPhone, for example.
Research is also underway that would allow a smartphone to instantly test blood or urine for the presence of disease, and other breakthroughs include a clip-on device that allows the iPhone’s camera to find signs of skin cancer.
The KAIST research proves touch screens hold promise beyond communication and entertainment, turning mobile devices into accurate, cost-effective diagnostic tools.
Want the scoop on mobile news? Subscribe to our Facebook or Twitter page. This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.

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