Cholesterol Selfie: Cornell Develops App That Could Save Lives

Everybody is taking selfies these days. President Obama, Darth Vader, and of course Miley. But a new smartphone accessory and app developed by Cornell University’s David Erickson can take a “cholesterol selfie.”

Using a reader that looks much like common credit card readers used with smartphones, the smartCARD (Smartphone Cholesterol Application for Rapid Diagnostics) can be utilized to read a person’s cholesterol levels. The smartCARD can receive a sample of the user’s blood, sweat, or saliva and then feed it to a reservoir located over the camera. Using the diffused light from the camera’s flash, the device takes a “cholesterol selfie”.

At that point, the app kicks in and examines the colorimetric scale of the sample. App users will then get a report on their overall cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol tests are normally performed at the doctor’s office or in the hospital because it is such a nuanced science. Cholesterol alone can not tell a person whether or not their health is where it needs to be.

“When you come in for a visit, I want to screen you not just for cholesterol but for sugar, vitamins, this and that,” Sri Krishna Madan Mohan, a cardiologist at the University Hospital Case Medical Center in Ohio says. “It would be useful if this device were able to track four of these things at once.”

Erickson and his team are also still working out the kinks of the app. The intent is to be able to distinguish between good and bad cholesterol. The good cholesterol in your body (hdl) helps prevent build up and blockages. If they can help the cholesterol selfie app distinguish the different types of cholesterol, then they may have truly developed something life saving.

So why not just go to the doctor? Erickson says that the new technology could lower costs for consumers.

“One of the challenges with deploying home diagnostics is that the cost of the machine to read the test strips can be expensive, difficult to use, and unfamiliar,” Erickson told CNET via email. “What’s been transformative in the last few years is that now everybody is carrying around this incredibly powerful computer that they use all the time, are very familiar with, and have already paid for. By building simple systems that can use the features of the smartphone people are already carrying significantly lowers the cost to entry.”

Erickson believes that the future of health monitoring will be related to smart phone technology. Cholesterol selfies are just the beginning. Can you imagine giving yourself a colonoscopy using your iPhone?