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When a selfie is good for your health

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When a selfie is good for your health

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The news was abuzz this week with the photo of Barack Obama joining in a selfie with David Cameron and Helle Thorning Schmidt at the funeral of Nelson Mandela.  Whilst the photo caused much brow beating over the appropriateness of doing so at such an event, it marked a watershed for a phenomenon that was coined the Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘word of the year‘ last month.

Whilst the feeling persists that the selfie is the preserve of the vain and vapid folks who chronicle their entire lives on social media, it does have some useful applications.  For instance, engineers at Cornell have developed a smartphone app that allows you to use your selfie to test for cholesterol.

The app, called the Smartphone Cholesterol Application for Rapid Diagnostics (or smartCARD) is the latest in a growing trend of healthcare applications for mobile devices.  The device is a smartphone accessory that detects biomarkers in a drop of blood, sweat or saliva via a photo before analysing the results using colour analysis.

“Smartphones have the potential to address health issues by eliminating the need for specialized equipment,” said David Erickson, Cornell associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior author on a new peer-reviewed study.

The user puts a drop of blood onto a cholesterol test strip, which will then process the blood through various chemical stages, rendering it ready for analysis by the smartphone app.

The smartCARD device itself looks similar to a credit card reader and attaches over the camera on the phone.  The flash part of the device then illuminates the strip that fits into the reader, where an analysis is performed to determine your cholesterol levels, with the results sent to your phone.

At the moment the device tests for cholesterol but the developers are hoping to improve it in time so that it both provides a more detailed cholesterol measurement but also measurements for things such as vitamin D levels.

“By 2016, there will be an estimated 260 smartphones in use in the United States. Smartphones are ubiquitous,” said Erickson, adding that although smartCARD is ready to be brought to market immediately, he is optimistic that it will have even more its advanced capabilities in less than a year. “Mobil health is increasing at an incredible rate,” he concluded. “It’s the next big thing.”

The next big thing after the selfie of course.

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