Columbia University

Technology Ventures

Low-power handheld diagnostic device with a smartphone dongle

Technology #cu15024

Most diagnostic testing is time-consuming and requires complex, bulky, and expensive machinery specifically designed for a particular test. In addition, access to the standard laboratory testing, which is often taken for granted in advanced countries, is a major impediment to adequate healthcare in developing nations. This technology is a compact, low-power, microfluidics-based diagnostic device that interfaces with the audio jack of a smartphone. It can carry out simultaneous diagnostic tests without access to a power source other than the smartphone, and has the potential to transform diagnostic testing in both developed and developing nations.

Compact, low-power microfluidic device powered through smartphone audio jack

This technology is simple to use and is powered entirely by an audio signal from a smartphone, allowing it to be used in regions without access to a reliable power source. Fluid is pumped through the device by a mechanical mechanism that creates a negative pressure chamber without the need for a power source. The device can also be modified to interface with USB, mini-USB, or Apple-lightning connections or can be developed to be powered by a small battery.

The dongle, which weighs less than 130 grams, has been used in the field in Rwanda to test pregnant women for HIV antibody, treponemal-specific antibody for syphilis, and nontreponemal antibody for active syphilis infection in a single immunoassay. The device provided results within 15 minutes, and the sensitivity and specificity of its diagnoses rivaled that of state-of-the-art laboratory testing, and it was preferred by patients. In addition, the dongle has been used to simultaneously detect HIV antibody and determine hemoglobin concentrations with high accuracy, sensitivity and specificity.

Lead Inventor:

Samuel Sia, Ph.D.


  • Diagnosis of HIV and syphilis
  • Measurement of hemoglobin concentration
  • Immunoassay tests such as pregnancy tests
  • Drug testing
  • Colorimetric detection tests
  • Electrochemical detection of metabolites and other molecules
  • DNA and RNA detection (after adding on-board battery)
  • Environmental and soil testing
  • Food safety testing
  • Water quality testing


  • Low-power
  • Data transferred and device powered through a smart phone audio jack
  • Allows for rapid (<15) diagnostic testing
  • Allows for conducting multiple tests simultaneously
  • Simple to use (<30 minutes of training)
  • Compact and light-weight 7 x 7.5 x 5 cm, <130 g

Patent Information:

Patent Pending(WO/2016/025698

Tech Ventures Reference: IR CU15024

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