Engineers create smartphone detector for cancer-causing virus

Engineers at Cornell University recently devised a new smartphone-based system for in-the-field detection of the herpes virus that causes Kaposi's sarcoma, a type of cancer linked to AIDS.

David Erickson, a mechanical engineer, and Matthew Mancuso, a biomedical engineer, developed the system, which includes a plug-in optical accessory and disposal microfluidic chips.

"The accessory provides an ultraportable way to determine whether or not viral DNA is present in a sample," Erickson said.

The system combines gold nanoparticles with short DNA snippets that bind to Kaposi's DNA sequences. A solution with the combined particles is then added to a microfluidic chip. When Kaposi's DNA is present, a color change can be measured with an optical sensor attached to a smartphone. The system can be used to diagnose Kaposi's with little training.

"Expert knowledge is required for almost every other means of detecting Kaposi's sarcoma," Mancuso said. "This system doesn't require that level of expertise."

While Kaposi's sarcoma incidence decreased in the U.S. with the increased availability of antiretroviral drugs, the disease is still prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Erickson and Mancuso said the technique could be used for other diseases as well, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, HIV, hepatitis, E. coli and food allergens.

"Nanoparticle assays similar to the one used in our work can target DNA from many different diseases," Mancuso said.

The laboratory also developed smartphone accessories for use with color-changing strips in urine and pH assays.

"These accessories could form the basis of a simple, at-home, personal biofluid health monitor," Mancuso said.

Mancuso will describe the work during the Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics on Monday during the San Jose, Calif.-based Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics.