Smartphones to be adapted to monitor and manage stress, nutrition and HIV infection

20 August 2014

A multidisciplinary team headed by Cornell University has been awarded a $3million grant to combine microfluidics and smartphone technology for health monitoring and improving patient engagement in their healthcare.

The program, called PHeNoM for Public Health, Nanotechnology, and Mobility, consists of researchers from Cornell, Cornell NYC Tech, Cornell Weill Medical College, the University of Maryland and the University of California Los Angeles. The aim of the project is to enable earlier detection of disease and allow patients to take better control of their own health and wellbeing by integrating technology with social contexts of healthcare.

PHeNoM will take advantage of the advancements in nanotechnology and microfluidics that have led to lab-on-chip devices that can detect and quantify protein, genetic, and other biochemical markers of diseases with precision. According to the award application, the goals of the project are to "demonstrate that deployment of lab-on-chip technology can be fundamentally altered by taking advantage of ubiquitous smartphone technology and show that the fusion of physical sensing and molecular assays on mobile platforms enable healthcare diagnostics that are more informative than either technology alone."

The project will develop three systems that can have an immediate impact on personal healthcare: a Stress-Phone for long term stress management, a Nutri-Phone for nutritional awareness and a Hema-Phone for monitoring viral loading in HIV positive patients.

 PHeNoM will build on research started by project lead David Erickson, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. With the help of a seed grant from Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, that project produced a smartphone camera accessory and application that measures cholesterol levels in a drop of blood in minutes. The application uses the camera to read paper test strips that turn different colours depending on the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

 The Nutri-Phone and Hema-Phone will similarly use the smart phone’s camera to accurately read test strips, while the Stress-Phone will also use the phone’s microphone to measure stress levels in the user’s voice.

“We believe that the science and technology enabled by the PHeNoM program will ultimately lead to widespread access to the wealth of health information obtainable from lab-on-chip technology,” said David Erickson. “This could fundamentally alter the domestic healthcare landscape by enabling earlier stage detection of disease, reducing the cost of public healthcare delivery and allowing individuals to take better control of their own wellbeing.”

After deploying the systems, the researchers will study how people use them and adopt changes in health behaviour. Ultimately, they hope to show that ready access to personal health information can get people to change their behaviour.

“Almost everyone is deficient in vitamin D, but most people don’t think about it,” said Erickson. “If you could use your phone to see how deficient you are, you might be more likely to take a supplement, or get more sun.

"Eventually we hope that the Nutri-Phone will measure a multitude of vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies like A, B12 and iron, as well as D and be deployed in the developing world where nutritional deficiencies are most prevalent,” said Erickson.


The award comes from the Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE) program to support “bold projects” in all NSF-supported areas of research.


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