Scientists are developing a groundbreaking handheld testing kit to diagnose cancer, HIV and a host of other diseases within minutes.
Experts say their pioneering new method of testing patient samples on a small chip plugged into an iPhone will slash costs and waiting times.
Researchers at the University of Southampton, Hants, liken the technology to the tricorder used to remotely scan patients in cult classic film Star Trek.
Testers would stand at a patient’s bedside, take smaller samples than currently used, and test them for a variety of killer diseases with ease.
The first prototypes should be available for initial testing next year under the £1million project.
Doctor Themis Prodromakis, from the University’s Electronic and Computer Sciences department, said the possibilities were ‘exciting’.
The test works by using electrical components as chemical sensors to detect reactions between proteins and antibodies, Dr Prodromakis said.
After a few minutes, the device would give a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ reading for the relevant virus.
Dr Prodromakis said: ‘The current system, which has been in use for 30 years or so, uses antibodies that react with the viruses.
‘The equipment is quite bulky and requires a lot of samples from the patient, which causes them a lot of discomfort.
‘It also needs someone to work overnight in a lab to pipette the material into wells and observe any changes.
‘The new method would detect what you’re looking for technically, by using PCBs used in consumer electronics and computers to automate the process.
‘You’d plug one of these chips into a device like an iPhone, put the samples in and have a diagnosis within a few minutes, rather than days or weeks.
‘It’s an incredibly versatile technique that can be used to test many different things, such as HIV, tuberculosis or various cancers, in any environment.
‘This is a very exciting development as it’s cheap and mobile and could be used to diagnose people in third world countries within minutes.’
Chips would cost £50 compared to around £500 under the conventional system, which also monitors proteins, Dr Prodromakis said.
Dr Prodromakis has teamed up with Newbury Electronics, a leading manufacturer of PCBs in the UK, on the three year project.
Clinical trials will be carried out at the Department of Infection and Immunity at Imperial College Healthcare NHS.
The new technology would need less than one microlitre of blood to be taken from the patient.