Smartphone technology is helping to make rapid, mobile testing possible for Zika and other viruses. Researchers have developed a smartphone-controlled, battery-operated diagnostic device that weighs under a pound, costs as little as $100, and can detect Zika, dengue and chikungunya within 30 minutes.

Sandia National Laboratories chemical engineer and lead paper author Aashish Priye offers a view into the Zika box prototype, along with co-authors Sara Bird, a virologist, center, and Cameron Ball, a biomedical engineer. (Credit: Randy Wong)

The team’s device is based on the loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) diagnostic method, which eliminates the need to process a biological sample, such as blood or urine, before testing. LAMP copies viral DNA/RNA, but without the heating and cooling cycle, a heavy-duty power source isn’t needed. The addition of a few carefully designed biochemical agents allows a LAMP box to test a sample that is heated only once to 65 °C (150 °F) for half an hour.

LAMP also eliminates the need for extra sample preparation before testing. The team developed a novel algorithm that allows a smartphone sensor to act as a fluorimeter, detecting QUASR LAMP light signals if they appear. LAMP works so simply that the user need only place the smartphone on top of the LAMP box and open an app. The app turns on the heater to initiate the LAMP reaction.

Once the 30-minute testing period is up, the smartphone photographs the sample. The app then employs a novel image analysis algorithm to accurately determine the color and brightness of the glow emitted from the LAMP reaction.