A thin layer of a polymeric material changes colour according to the concentration of iron in a liquid

Smartphone-based iron deficiency diagnostic kit

A diagnostic kit to analyse iron levels in blood and other liquids using a smart polymer and a smartphone or digital camera is being developed by Spanish researchers. 

In a study published recently in the 'Journal of Materials Chemistry A', researchers from the University of Burgos in Spain, have described the polymeric material that changes colour according to the concentration of iron in a liquid. 

The polymer works similarly to a pregnancy test and can be used to create miniature discs about 0,1mm thin. After putting a drop of the tested liquid onto the disc, the material needs about 15 minutes to react and change its colour. By simply taking a picture of the material with a smartphone or a digital camera, the colour of the image could be analysed using special software that allows quantifying the amount of iron in the original blood sample.

"RGB (red, green and blue) information can be obtained directly from the phone and processed on a conventional computer to determine the levels of iron according to the system of reference," said José Miguel García, the leader of the research.

"We have tried it successfully in water, white wine and blood, so it could be used for activities like monitoring industrial effluents, preventing unpleasant flavours in wines or diagnosing anaemia or iron overload, which can cause anything from liver damage to arthritis," he explained.

The results of the study have shown, the system can, at the current stage, detects iron concentrations between 56 parts per billion (ppb) and 56 parts per million (ppm), covering maximum levels for drinkable water as required by the European Union.

To make it reliable for blood deficiency diagnostics, the researchers would have to increase the sensitivity of the system as the usual iron levels in human blood are between 0.8 to 1.8 ppm.

Blood deficiency in European population is rather widespread, especially among women.

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