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New Technologies: Diagnoses Using Cell Phones

Created initially to make wireless verbal and then digital communication available to everyone, now cell phones are being used for everything from watching movies to social networking to ordering food and movie tickets and even shopping. The application potentials are limitless and now even medical applications have jumped on the cell phone bandwagon. This means that similar to telemedicine, smart phones can relay important information from remote locations to medical specialists.

For example, frequently occurring, potentially life-threatening conditions such as apnea and pneumothorax can be easily ruled out by performing an ultrasound that visualizes a respiratory motion known as lung sliding. Institutions from around the world collaborated on a study that assessed how economically and practically this information could be obtained remotely over a cellular network. 1

In this study, remote expert sonographers taught remote providers with little to no ultrasound experience how to obtain the images needed to rule out apnea and pneumothorax. Through the use of handheld ultrasound units streaming images via Skype services on an iPhone, examinations were conducted between a series of remote sites and a base station. These included: two remote on-mountain sites, a small airplane in flight, and a Calgary household, with base sites located in Pisa, Rome, Philadelphia, and Calgary.

In every example, lung sliding could easily and quickly be seen. Furthermore, the respiratory motion was easily substantiated and documented through capture of color-power Doppler and M-mode images. Other ultrasound applications, such as the Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma examination, vascular anatomy, and a fetal wellness assessment were also demonstrated.

In another study, conducted in South Korea, a team of scientists from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science of Technology2 demonstrated that touch screen technology can be used to detect biomolecular matter, in a similar way that standard medical tests are now conducted. Rather than spending hours waiting in lines at clinics and hospitals for tests, based on the idea that touch screens work by recognizing electronic signs based on the touch of a finger; the presence of DNA and particular proteins should be recognizable, as well.

Biochemicals, including proteins and DNA molecules, carry specific electronic charges and touch screens on smart phones work by sensing the electronic charges from the user's body on the screen. The Korean team’s experiments showed that touch screens can recognize the existence and the concentration of DNA molecules placed on them. They confirmed that touch screens are able to recognize DNA molecules with nearly 100 per cent accuracy just as large, conventional medical equipment can.

Eventually, the hope is that the touch screen will be able to identify bacteria or other disease from fluids as diverse as sputum, blood, saliva or even urine. And if along the way, researchers can find ways to overcome interference from things like sweat, moisture, etc., they'll be on the road to a whole new method of mobile diagnostics. Since putting blood or urine on a touch screen is undesirable, the sample would be placed on a strip, which would then be fed into the phone or a module attached to the phone through a designated entrance point.

1. “Simple, Almost Anywhere, With Almost Anyone: Remote Low-Cost Telementored Resuscitative Lung Ultrasound” The Journal of Trauma – December 2011

2. Dr Hyun-gyu Park and Dr Byongyeon Won - Korea Advanced Institute of Science of Technology - Angewandte Chemie Journal - January 2012

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