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HIV Test On The Go? Scientists Develop USB Tool For Convenient HIV Testing

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There's a new HIV testing tool in town and it's on a USB stick.

A research team from Imperial College London teamed up with DNA Electronics to develop a USB stick that utilizes a blood drop to test for HIV. The device then creates an electrical signal that any computer or handheld device can read for results.

According to findings published in the journal Scientific Reports, the disposable test is highly accurate in detecting how much of the virus is in a person's bloodstream and can produce results in less than 30 minutes.

Given the convenient nature of the USB device, it can be used by HIV patients to monitor their condition and can be harnessed to manage HIV cases in remote locations more effectively.

Current HIV Testing Technology

It takes a minimum of three days for current tests to show just how much of the HIV is present in a sample because samples are sent to laboratories for analysis. Additionally, current tests are designed to detect the presence of the virus and not how much of the virus is present, which can indicate if anti-retroviral treatment is working or not.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 2 million people were newly enrolled into anti-retroviral treatment programs in 2015. They add to the average of 46 percent of HIV patients receiving anti-retroviral treatment for the year.

How USB HIV Testing Works

Using a mobile phone chip, the USB HIV test only requires a small blood sample to work. The blood sample is placed onto a spot on the device and will trigger an acidity change if HIV is detected. The change in acidity is then transformed into an electrical signal, which is sent to the device. The electrical signal is then read by a program on a computer or handheld device.

For the study, the researchers tested 991 samples of blood and achieved an accuracy rate of 95 percent. The average time it took to get a result from the USB HIV test was 20.8 minutes.

Other Applications

The researchers are looking into testing if the device will also be effective in detecting other viruses like hepatitis. At DNA Electronics, however, the technology is already being developed to test for fungal and bacterial sepsis, as well as antibiotic resistance.

"At DNAe we are already applying this highly adaptable technology to address significant global threats to health, where treatment is time-critical and needs to be right the first time," said Chris Tomazou, DNAe founder and one of the study's authors.

DNA Electronics is a spinout company of Imperial College London.

Photo: G. T. Wang | Flickr

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