Smartphone camera could help medical treatment in rural areas: SFU graduate

A smartphone’s camera may hold the key to helping women in rural areas access information about their reproductive health.

Simon Fraser University graduate Zhendong Cao has developed a way to use a smartphone camera which could eventually help doctors perform non-clinical diagnostic testing.

The research is part of Cao’s thesis, and initially focuses on helping women with family planning and reproductive health monitoring.

“A smartphone’s camera can distinguish up to 16-million colours. We’re taking advantage of this capability to do the same kind of diagnostic testing that a microplate reader does in a laboratory, except we’re using an everyday phone,” said Cao in a news release.

A microplate reader is a device used to detect biological, chemical or physical events in test tube samples.

Cao modified the software inside a smartphone’s camera to analyze the amount of coloured pixels and UV light in a photo of a sample.

The way light is absorbed or emitted from the substance can then indicate the concentration of the sample.

“When we’re collecting samples for our research with women in these rural areas, we ship our samples back to our lab to analyze them,” said Katrina Salvante, a research associate in Nepomnaschy’s lab who collaborated on Cao’s project. “We’re hoping to replace the expensive and bulky equipment we use in our lab with a smartphone, which researchers like us could carry out to the field and that the women themselves could access, too.”

The next step, Cao says, is to test the device in rural areas.

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