Researchers in the George Washington UniversitySchool of Engineering and Applied Science, Washington, DC, have created a smartphone-controlled liquid handling system that could make handheld diagnostic testing a reality. Their technology is operated by a smartphone, using a mobile app that they also designed, that can displays test results within 15 minutes. They say that their goal is to completely decentralize medical diagnostics.

The instrument could be used in physicians’ offices or emergency rooms, providing a cheaper, faster alternative to standard diagnostics tests. In the future, the handheld device could be sold to individual consumers, so people would be able to monitor their health in their homes. In addition, the technology would be ideal for patients in developing countries who do not have access to laboratory services.

Their first challenge in creating this diagnostic instrument was to develop a tiny fluidic chip that could perform laboratory operations on a small scale. To achieve this, they used advanced microfluidic technology to build complex liquid networks, valves, and pumps all on a stamp-sized rubber chip. To operate the system, they took the additional large step of downsizing the electronic control, pressure and valve systems that pump the fluids into the microscopic chip.

The researchers developed a compact microfluidic liquid handling system that could fit in the palm of one’s hand. It provides two different pressure sources and eight pneumatic control lines for operating the chips. Then, they designed the smartphone app, which puts the entire process in motion.