Researchers develop new type of HIV test on a USB stick

Researchers develop new type of HIV test on a USB stick
Researchers develop new type of HIV test on a USB stick

Researchers at Imperial College of London and UK biotech company DNA Electronics have created a new HIV test that’s carried out using a USB stick.

The device uses a drop of blood to detect the amount of virus in the bloodstream, and if HIV is present a mobile phone chip senses a change in acidity and then creates an electrical signal that is picked up by the USB stick. Results are then produced in a computer program or an electronic device.

This type of technology can enable healthcare teams to regularly monitor viral levels, indicating if a patient is taking their medication, which if stopped, can lead to HIV-drug resistance.

Traditional HIV tests rely on antibodies and can only tell if a person is infected with the virus, not detect viral levels. Tests that do identify viral levels often taken more than three days to get results, are more expensive and require sending samples to a lab.

The researchers believe this device could be especially helpful in many remote parts of the world that don’t have access to these types of tests, but have high numbers of HIV infections, such as sub-Sharan Africa.

So far the device has been 95 percent accurate when used to test 991 blood samples. On average it took 20.8 minutes to get results back.

“HIV treatment has dramatically improved over the last 20 years – to the point that many diagnosed with the infection now have a normal life expectancy, “ senior author Dr. Graham Cooke, said in a prepared statement. “However, monitoring viral load is crucial to the success of HIV treatment. At the moment, testing often requires costly and complex equipment that can take a couple of days to produce a result. We have taken the job done by this equipment, which is the size of a large photocopier, and shrunk it down to a USB chip.”

Further development of the technology may also make it useful to test for other viruses such as hepatitis.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.