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A Selfie That Checks Your Cholesterol Level

A team of engineers has designed a smartphone accessory and app that allows users to monitor their own blood cholesterol levels. Think of it as a sort of cholesterol selfie—or maybe a healthie?

As researchers from Cornell University explain in a paper in the journal Lab on a Chip, all you need—aside from their attachment and a smartphone—is a reagent test strip and a willingness to draw your own blood. Cholesterol tests tend to rely on reagent strips that turn different colors, depending on the cholesterol levels of the blood placed on them. The researchers’ achievement was to design an attachment to be placed over the smartphone flash and camera that can illuminate and capture the color of the strip, rendering unnecessary specialized equipment or an in-person health professional. The lab is working on a smartphone app that can determine vitamin D levels, too.

The technology is relatively straightforward, and the research group is one of many developing smartphone tools such as these. Already, apps can turn smartphones into heart-rate monitors, sleep monitors, or ultrasound machines, to name just a few. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, half of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users worldwide will have downloaded mobile health applications by 2018.

Whether they use them regularly is another question. Still, the continuing spread of smartphones globally and the determination of health policymakers to drive down costs make such cheap, idiot-proof (at least, idiot-resistant) technologies all-but inevitable.

Bennett is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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