In a first, researchers have developed a handheld detector that can perform chemical analyses and transmit results to a cloud database from even low-end mobile phones.
The detector could one day enable a wide range of tests - such as those for toxic metals in drinking water, blood glucose or electrolyte levels in humans, or malaria infections - at low cost, its developers said in a Nature report.
The device, called the "universal mobile electrochemical detector" (uMED), costs nearly $25 to manufacture.
Its 3.7-V lithium polymer battery can go on for months or even years on a single charge.
"All that is required is to insert the strip, select the test, apply the sample and place a phone call," said George Whitesides from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Its testing equipment includes three electrodes and a small sample well for fluids.
The data that the uMed collects can be transmitted by plugging it into a cellular phone's headphone jack; the device is compatible with most phones and all network types, researchers added.
Most existing devices that allow mobile collection and transmission of health data are expensive and limited in their application as they require smartphones and 3G or 4G data networks.
"Nearly three billion people worldwide have low-end cellphones and are connected to networks using older technology. This device is compatible with any phone or network," Whitesides explained.
The paper appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.