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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 06
Test for HIV on your smartphone - Results in 15 minutes
Section One
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Test for HIV on your smartphone - Results in 15 minutes

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Researchers at Columbia Engineering have unveiled a new smartphone accessory that can test for HIV and return an accurate result in only 15 minutes.

The device, called a dongle, replicates all the mechanical, optical, and electronic functions of a laboratory blood test, but costs only $34 to produce. In contrast, the equipment for an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) costs upwards of $18,000. The smartphone accessory also requires no stored energy, since all necessary power is drawn from the smartphone.

In addition to HIV, the dongle also conducts two separate tests for syphilis.

'Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory,' lead researcher Samuel K. Sia told Science Daily.

'Coupling microfluidics with recent advances in consumer electronics can make certain lab-based diagnostics accessible to almost any population with access to smartphones. This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the world.'

The research team's pilot device was field-tested by healthcare workers in Rwanda on 96 patients who were enrolling in prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission clinics or voluntary counseling and testing centers.

The study was published February 4 in Science Translational Medicine.

During the field testing in Rwanda, healthcare workers were given only 30 minutes of training, which included a user-friendly interface to aid the user through each test, step-by-step pictorial directions, built-in timers to alert the user to next steps, and records of test results for later review.

Ninety-seven percent of the patients said they would recommend the dongle because of its fast turn-around time, ability to offer results for multiple diseases, and simplicity of procedure.

'Our dongle presents new capabilities for a broad range of users, from health care providers to consumers,' Sia said.

'By increasing detection of syphilis infections, we might be able to reduce deaths by 10-fold. And for large-scale screening where the dongle's high sensitivity with few false negatives is critical, we might be able to scale up HIV testing at the community level with immediate antiretroviral therapy that could nearly stop HIV transmissions and approach elimination of this devastating disease.'

Sia's team wanted to build on their previous work in miniaturizing diagnostics hardware for rapid point-of-care diagnosis of HIV, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted diseases. They designed the dongle to be small and light enough to fit into one hand, and to run assays on disposable plastic cassettes with pre-loaded reagents, where disease-specific zones provided an objective read-out, much like an ELISA assay.

'We are really excited about the next steps in bringing this product to the market in developing countries,' he continues. 'And we are equally excited about exploring how this technology can benefit patients and consumers back home.'

Sia collaborated with researchers from Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health; the Institute of HIV Disease Prevention and Control, Rwanda Biomedical Center; Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, Columbia University Medical Center; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Laboratory Reference and Research Branch, Atlanta; and OPKO Diagnostics.

The study was funded by Saving Lives at Birth transition grant (USAID, Gates Foundation, Government of Norway, Grand Challenges Canada, and the World Bank) and Wallace H. Coulter Foundation.

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