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An app to check your cholesterol is the latest way smartphones are evolving into medical devices

On mobile phones, health, and fitness are rapidly becoming big business. The latest idea? A concept from researchers at Cornell which demonstrates how your phone could be used to check your cholesterol levels, no visit to the lab required.

In a paper published in the medical technology journal Lab on a Chip, the researchers describe a simple test strip that users drop a bit of blood on. You then snap a photo of this strip (using a special flash diffuser to correct for light levels) and use an app to analyze the results. Because blood changes colors ever so slightly based on the amount of cholesterol in it, the app can determine your cholesterol level through a simple image analysis of the picture of the test strip. That's good news, since Yahoo! reports that up to 60 percent of American adults suffer from high cholesterol. Presumably a good portion of them aren't even aware of it and don't want to undertake the hassle of a doctor visit.

As Bloomberg Businessweek notes in the above story, cholesterol testing is hardly the first example of a medical or health-related technology being developed into app form. Today's app-based heart rate monitors make old-fashioned finger clips look like medieval gear, and you can now download an app that diagnoses what's wrong with your sleep patterns. Expectant mothers can get a daily report on their fetus's development, and that's not even mentioning the scads of apps that let you manage your workout and diet routines.

Medical related apps are booming across the board. One analyst estimates the size of the "mHealth apps" market at $6.6 billion today, with the expectation that it will grow to $20.7 billion by 2018. The analysis notes that the category is dominated by exercise apps at present (making up about one-fifth of the market), but that sleep, meditation, and weight-loss apps are expected to grow the fastest over the next five years.

On the more specialized end of things, the market will also be driven by more complex "connected devices" that plug into your smartphone. These will enable users to monitor cardiac conditions, manage diabetes, and track multiple physical data points simultaneously. Diabetes care is likely to be the most important of these, driven by the rapid rise in cases of the disease in recent and coming years.

The way things are going, health-focused applications could emerge as one of the most game-changing sub-industries in mobile technology. Just don't call them "killer" apps!

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