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Researchers are trying to transform a smartphone into a Zika detecting device. A new research details efforts to rapidly and accurately diagnose Zika using mobile health technologies that could potentially be deployed in resource-limited settings.

The investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said the work involved developing tiny platinum nanomotors that target Zika, as well as microbeads that bind the virus, according to

They learned when both components are added to a sample containing Zika, they form a three-dimensional complex that moves in the presence of hydrogen peroxide, and the movement can be detected using a smartphone hooked up to a $5 optical device.

“Zika diagnostics represent an urgent need in many parts of the world,” said Hadi Shafiee, the study’s corresponding author and principal investigator at the BWH Division of Engineering in Medicine and Renal Division of Medicine. “Our goal is to address this unmet clinical need using cell-phone-based technology. Cell phones have the power to perform complicated analyzes, handle image processing, take high-quality images and are ubiquitous in Zika-afflicted countries. We can leverage this to address outbreaks of infectious disease.”

The study published in ACS Nano uses an optical device similar to what Shafiee and colleagues used previously to detect male infertility in semen samples, referencing the new work highlights the potential of using cell phone technology for other viral diagnostics.

Traditional virus diagnostics rely on detecting antibodies in a person’s bloodstream that target Zika. However, many closely related viruses, including dengue, can elicit similar antibodies, leading to a high false positive rate for such tests. Other research groups are currently developing methods to go after the nucleic acid building blocks of the Zika virus, but Shafiee and colleagues have taken an entirely new approach: They are developing a way to detect intact copies of the Zika virus, reports