This affordable attachment can turn your smartphone into a DNA sequencer

While DNA analysis is so advanced in so many ways, the process can be arduous; patients’ genetic samples have often needed to be sent to state-of-the-art labs for testing, a process that slows down the process considerably… until now.

This affordable attachment can turn your smartphone into a DNA sequencer

In an exciting development, researchers at UCLA, Stockholm University and Uppsala University in Sweden have created a smartphone-based microscope that could ease the mutation-testing process immeasurably, facilitating the analysis of DNA sequences and genetic mutations in tissue samples and tumour cells without having to physically extract DNA from them saves valuable, perhaps critical, amounts of time.

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Meanwhile, the development’s academic credentials speak for themselves: UCLA’s chancellor’s professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering (and associate director of CNSI), Aydogan Ozcan, led the research, accompanied by fellow senior academic Mat Nilsson, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities and director of the SciLifeLab in Stockholm.

Promisingly, Ozcan has estimated that the device – described in this study in the Nature Communications journal – could be manufactured for less than $500 (£405) per unit should it be produced in bulk.

This is no negligible feat, with high-end microscopes costing upwards of $50,000 (£40,600). Even if you downsize to a typical microscope boasting multiple imaging modes, it would still set you back an astronomical $10,000 (£8,100). These numbers simply aren’t cost-effective for those living in remote areas.

Nonetheless, Nilsson stipulates that the availability of molecular diagnostics can help doctors identify the genetic mutations causing the tumour, in turn deciphering the best route to take treatment-wise. The device – an optical attachment for a standard smartphone – would feed data to an algorithm, which in turn would read and analyse sequenced DNA bases of extracted tumour DNA, or find genetic mutations within the tumour tissue.

Co-author of the study, Malte Kühnemund, has testified to the magnitude of the development, saying: “Ultra-low-cost DNA sequencing and tumour biopsy analysis […] can substantially decrease diagnostic costs and make it more widely accessible.” 

Possibilities are seemingly boundless, too, with scientists reckoning that the technology could one day be used to identify disease-causing micro-organisms, and to ascertain the genetic qualities of antibiotic resistance. Watch this space.

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