The Lab-on-Mobile-Device platform can detect aflatoxins as accurately as a laboratory test, but can be carried out anywhere at a fraction of the cost using a smartphone camera. Field trials of LMD began in five locations in East Africa last September in collaboration with several regional research universities and research institutions, and with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Roughly five billion people in the developing world are likely to be exposed to aflatoxins.
Laboratory tests that can identify the toxin are expensive, costing at least US$15 per test, according to Gnonlonfin, in addition to the challenge of transporting samples from remote areas.
As a result, local regulatory agencies widely use cheaper immunoassay tests, which operate in a similar way to over-the-counter pregnancy tests, for on-location screening. But these can only indicate a positive or negative result via a colour change on test strips or in liquid substrates and so are unable to indicate the level of health threat.
Immunoassay tests are also prone to human error as some require precise timing and because low concentrations of aflatoxin might not trigger an obvious coloured response. The Lab-on-Mobile-Device (LMD) is more sensitive than the human eye, boosting the accuracy of traditional immunoassay tests by a factor of 100. LMD reduces these risks by analysing the shades of the coloured bands on test strips via a digital phone image. After users photograph the test strip with the smartphone, the app then calculates the pixel density of the coloured band. The result shows how much aflatoxin is present, within a certain threshold, rather than merely giving a simple positive or negative result.
Data from the tests will also be automatically uploaded online to create real-time, open-access maps of aflatoxin outbreaks for research. Each LMD test will cost about US$2-3, although the need to own a smartphone with a camera means Cooper sees LMD not as a tool for every farmer but rather as a more-accurate, on-site test for agricultural co-operatives and regulatory bodies.