Transformation of personal computers and mobile phones into genetic diagnostic systems

Molecular diagnostics based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) offer rapid and sensitive means for detecting infectious disease, but prohibitive costs have impeded their use in resource-limited settings where such diseases are endemic. In this work, we report an innovative method for transforming a desktop computer and a mobile camera phone—devices that have become readily accessible in developing countries—into a highly sensitive DNA detection system. This transformation was achieved by converting a desktop computer into a de facto thermal cycler with software that controls the temperature of the central processing unit (CPU), allowing for highly efficient PCR. Next, we reconfigured the mobile phone into a fluorescence imager by adding a low-cost filter, which enabled us to quantitatively measure the resulting PCR amplicons. Our system is highly sensitive, achieving quantitative detection of as little as 9.6 attograms of target DNA, and we show that its performance is comparable to advanced laboratory instruments at approximately 1/500th of the cost. Finally, in order to demonstrate clinical utility, we have used our platform for the successful detection of genomic DNA from the parasite that causes Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi, directly in whole, unprocessed human blood at concentrations 4-fold below the clinical titer of the parasite.

F. M. Walker, K. M. Ahmad, M. Eisenstein, and H. T. Soh
Analytical Chemistry
Volume: 86
Number: 18
Date: August, 2014
ICB Affiliated Authors: Hyongsok (Tom) Soh