There are a bunch of things you can do with your smartphone camera other than taking photos. Thanks to a group of scientists and physicians at UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, you might soon be able to take a COVID-19 test at home safely, quickly, and accurately.
The researchers published their proposed test last week in the journal JAMA Network Open. They wanted to assess whether a smartphone setup is suitable for testing for SARS-CoV-2 and flu virus without the need for specialized equipment, accessory devices, or custom reagents. And as it turned out – it is. What’s more, the test can be readily modified to detect novel SARS-CoV-2 variants and other pathogens that could cause pandemics in the future.
How it works
The process is called smaRT-LAMP and from the description, I’d say it isn’t any harder than the available COVID-19 home tests. It may be easier even, considering that you don’t have to pick your brain out with a swab to collect a sample properly. But the downside is that, for now, it only works with Samsung Galaxy S7 or S9’s cameras.
The test consists of Bacticount and a diagnostic kit you’ll pair with your smartphone. Bacticount is an open-source app you can find on Google Play. The kit contains a 96-well hot plate, LED lights for illumination, and a chemical reagent that helps to detect the virus.
Once you have the kit, you need to collect a saliva specimen for detecting SARS-CoV-2. Add a reaction mix, and then use a smartphone camera and the Bacticount app to monitor the reactions. It takes 25 minutes for the reaction to take place, and then you can use the app to automatically identify and quantify the pathogen load in each sample.
The obvious advantage of this kit is that it’s available to anyone (or at least it will be when it’s expanded to more phones). But also, the setup costs less than $100. It can analyze up to 96 samples per phone, so the cost per test is less than $7, the study notes. Compare it with $10 – $20 per single rapid antigen test and $100 – $150 per single PCR test – the difference is significant.
“As new COVID variants emerge globally, testing and detection remain essential to pandemic control efforts,” lead author Michael Mahan told The Current. “Nearly half the world’s population has a smartphone, and we believe that this holds exciting potential to provide fair and equal access to precision diagnostic medicine.”