Johns Hopkins researchers unveil low-cost smartphone test for chlamydia

Researchers' mobiLab device can quickly pinpoint chlamydia using a smartphone and accompanying app.--Courtesy of Dong Jin Shin

As the diagnostics industry zeroes in on rapid point-of-care tests, a team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University is developing an innovative smartphone diagnostic for chlamydia that could improve screening for the disease.

Researchers are working on a low-cost nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT) platform that can quickly diagnose chlamydia and includes sample preparation, DNA amplification and data processing in an instrument that size of a coffee mug. The battery-powered device, dubbed "mobiLab," uses a microfluidics cartridge to pinpoint DNA of chlamydia bacteria in genital swab samples. Results are analyzed through a smartphone that allows the user to control testing and process data with an app. The scientists are presenting their findings this week at the 2015 AACC Annual Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo in Atlanta.

The test could offer an advantage over current screening methods, which often require complicated and expensive processing, Dong Jin Shin, a PhD student at Johns Hopkins developing the test, told FierceDiagnostics. Each microfluidics cartridge in the device costs less than $2--far cheaper than other commercial cartridges on the market which run at about $10. And unlike most traditional NAAT testing, the smartphone diagnostic is automated and doesn't need a lab technician to process results, Shin added.

"Our transition to nucleic based testing has provided an advantage in turnaround times," he said. "With the advent of point-of-care testing, we want to further that and not rely so heavily on infrastructure."

Scientists have already pitted the test against a commonly used diagnostic for chlamydia to see how well it performs. The research team analyzed 20 patient samples using mobiLab and the Gen-Probe Aptima Combo 2 assay, and found that both tests identified the same 10 positive and 10 negative cases.

Next up, the researchers plan to run additional tests with partners at Johns Hopkins to validate the device. Ideally, the team wants to make the tool available for home care or global health settings.

"We're all excited about what's taking place in this lab," Shin said. "We're revving up to deploy this technology in such a way where we can evaluate whether point of care can pick up. It remains to be seen whether this technology can benefit clinicians, and we'd like to see this work go much further in the future."

- read the release (PDF)