Sequencing even small snippets of DNA was a cumbersome and expensive process not so long ago. The process required access to a state-of-the-art lab, but now we are inching closer and closer to putting a DNA sequencer in every person’s pocket with the help of a smartphone, according to a new study.

DNA
Photo by qimono (Pixabay)

DNA sequencing from anywhere

DNA is composed of chemical bases just like a word is made up of individual letters. One of the reasons scientists pay close attention to DNA sequences is that they can assist them in identifying a mutation or gene that may cause a disease. Now a smartphone can image and analyze specific genetic mutations and DNA sequences in tissue samples and tumor cells without extracting DNA from them.

A team of researchers from Sweden and ULCA announced this week that they had built a microscope that uses the camera in a smartphone to detect fluorescent products of DNA sequencing reactions in tissues and cells. This means that a doctor could plug the phone-optimized microscope into a smartphone and perform targeted molecular analysis and DNA sequencing on things like tumors in locations that do not have a state-of-the-art facility.

Researchers published their work on Tuesday in Nature Communications, saying that they imagine their technology could be an advantage in advancing the field of tele-medicine, which means doing medicine away from a hospital setting.

Cost-effective too

Currently, when it comes to diagnosing cancer accurately, DNA sequencing and other molecular diagnostics are an important first step in treating cancer. However, molecular diagnostics are frequently not available in places without well-equipped labs. Theoretically, such a tool could enable doctors to perform high-end cancer diagnostics almost everywhere.

The researchers wrote, “Molecular diagnostics at the point of care is currently by and large an unmet need in resource-limited settings. Efficient management of a wide range of disease conditions is severely limited by the lack of molecular information.”

If the new device is produced in large quantities, it could be manufactured for much less than $500 each, the researchers say. This is much less expensive than the equipment that labs use to conduct the tests. The device, which is produced using a 3D printer, includes a lightweight optical attachment which is used with a standard smartphone camera.

“With their rapidly expanding imaging and sensing capabilities, computational power, and connectivity, mobile phones help translate biomedical measurements from lab environments to … field settings,” the researchers noted.