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Indian-American-led research team wins $100,000 NIH prize for phone-based saliva test

The Cornell researchers’ team led by Saurabh Mehta was awarded the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Technology Accelerator Challenge prize that encourages the development of new, non-invasive diagnostic technologies important for global health.

According to Mehta, technologies using salivary biomarkers could revolutionise how conditions such as malaria and iron deficiency are identified and addressed, especially in settings where access to primary health care and traditional, laboratory-based tests is limited.

“This concept provides noninvasive, rapid and accurate results anywhere in the world. A breakthrough in such mobile diagnostics could provide untold health benefits for vulnerable populations globally,” Mehta said. For the group’s saliva-based test, a small 3D-printed adapter is clipped to a mobile phone and synced with a mobile app. The app uses the phone’s camera to image test strips to detect malaria, iron deficiency and inflammation, with results in under 15 minutes.

The proposal builds on the FeverPhone and NutriPhone platforms developed by the team at Cornell’s Institute for Nutritional Sciences, Global Health and Technology (INSiGHT). The technologies, funded by the NIH and the National Science Foundation, evaluate infections and nutritional status using blood.

“These types of potentially world-changing innovations are only possible when you foster strong multidisciplinary research and a culture of innovation, such as we do here at Cornell,” said David Erickson, another team member.

The team was led by Mehta, associate professor of global health, epidemiology and nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, in the College of Human Ecology (CHE), and the Department of Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

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