Nutriphone hopes to commercialize smartphone-enabled vitamin D deficiency testing

By Brian Dolan
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Nutriphone vitaMe's prototype Nutriphone device

Nutriphone, a smartphone accessory developed at Cornell University by two PhD students, enables users to test cholesterol levels, saliva pH, vitamin deficiency and more, vitaMe Technologies CTO Vlad Oncescu explained during a panel discussion at the mHealth Summit outside of Washington DC this week.

"The one area [in health sensors] that hasn't been explored enough is chemical sensors on smarthphones," Oncescu said. "We would like to see more of that. At some point we believe -- potentially -- that you'll be able to analyze the effects of diet directly on your smartphone. You will also be able to test for cholesterol level and your vitamin levels on the smartphone -- this is what we have done."

The prototype for the Nutriphone is a smartphone accessory that attaches to the phone over its rear-facing camera. Similar to the urine analysis app, uChek from BioSense, Nutriphone enables a user's smartphone camera to read colorimetric test strips specific to biomarkers. With the Nutriphone device, users insert a test strip into a chamber that holds it while the phone's camera captures an image for analysis.

"We started with something very simple," Oncescu said. "We started by monitoring pH and we found out that a lot of athletes at Cornell were interested in doing this -- especially the track athletes. So we gave them test devices and some smartphones so they could test their pH level throughout their runs over a 30 to 60 minute period," he said. "Then we were able to correlate that to sodium loss and ultimately to sweat loss."

Oncescu and the company co-founder and CEO Matthew Mancuso did other small pilot tests with the technology, including one that quantified the amount of sweat loss over a 90 minute period doing hot yoga. VitaMe sees applications for pH testing of saliva alkalinity as it relates to diet as another potential opportunity.

"Below a certain threshold of pH you start having tooth decay and enamel decalcification," he said. "[With a device like the Nutriphone] you could track your saliva pH throughout the day and the effect your diet has on it."

VitaMe also sees potential in using the technology for less expensive at-home cholesterol testing.

"More recently we have moved to something we believe will ultimately change the way we go through blood based analysis -- monitoring cholesterol levels. There is a lot of scientific evidence of increased mortality for cholesterol levels about 110 milligrams per deciliter. Something like 60 percent of US population has high cholesterol but not nearly enough of them are testing their cholesterol. That's partially because the devices are very expensive but they also don't allow really good tracking and sharing of information."

Oncescu said based on a very small study their device appears to be as accurate as other cholesterol testing devices on the market.

The most immediate commercial application opportunity for Nutriphone, however, is in vitamin D deficiency testing, according to Oncescu.

"We have developed a gold nanoparticle-based assay that we can perform on a test strip and we have demonstrated we can do it with the accuracy of ELIZA kits," he said."This is something we are developing -- so far we have only done it on serum samples."