Curious About Your Cholesterol? New Smartphone Accessory Can Help

PHOTO: The SmartCARD can measure your cholesterol thanks to a smartphone.
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Calorie counters and fitness trackers aren't the only way smartphones can keep track of your health. Researchers at Cornell University in New York are currently developing an app and accessory called SmartCARD, short for Smartphone Cholesterol Application for Rapid Diagnostics, that can measure your cholesterol.

David Erickson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Cornell, said that smartphones were a natural fit for a cholesterol tracking device. "Everyone already carries a smartphone, and that gives you an incredible amount of hardware and computational power in your pocket all the time," he told ABC News. "It's silly not to take advantage of it."

The SmartCARD system clamps over the smartphone's camera. Just like a standard detector, the person pricks his or her finger and dabs a drop of blood onto a test strip. The strip is fed into a holding slot on the system, and the smartphone snaps a photo of the blood sample for analysis.

Erickson sees the app as giving its users some piece of mind. "The real advantage of things like smartphone-based diagnostics is that it gives feedback when people want it," he said. "It has all the other smartphone features built into it, like tracking cholesterol over time and being able to take notes."

Sri Krishna Madan Mohan, a cardiologist at the University Hospital Case Medical Center in Ohio, said that while he's generally an app-happy guy, he doesn't see much value in SmartCARD. "Unlike something like sugar levels or blood thickness, [cholesterol] isn't something that fluctuates from minute to minute, or even from month to month," he said. "If I start treating you, I'd recheck [your cholesterol] in three months to see if the treatment had any effect."

One of the other problems is that the accessory does not distinguish between HDL and LDL, or good and bad cholesterol. "If I have a cholesterol level of 200, it could be 180 good and 20 bad, or 180 bad and 20 good," said Mohan. "It's important to measure the levels of each type of cholesterol."

Mohan said, however, that SmartCARD's principles could be used to measure other vitals. "When you come in for a visit, I want to screen you not just for cholesterol but for sugar, vitamins, this and that," he said. "It would be useful if this device were able to track four of these things at once."

Erickson's research is published in the most recent issue of the journal Lab on a Chip.

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