One of the most effective ways to fight AIDS is with quick, easy, and accessible HIV testing — if caught early, HIV can be managed. But, to keep up with virus mutations and to ensure that the right drugs are being prescribed, HIV tests need to be administered regularly to keep the person healthy, and that can be tricky. While those tests are currently covered by most insurance plans in this country, they’re either too costly or too far away for many people living in rural areas across the globe. A new test developed at the Imperial College in London could change that.
Researchers at the college are refining a small HIV test small enough to fit on a USB drive. The test, which only requires a drop of blood, uses a sample that reacts to hydrogen ions produced when HIV-infected blood is heated up by a sensor. From there, it’s like a litmus test — how acidic the sample becomes indicates the presence of HIV. Data is then sent to the USB drive, where it can easily be transferred to a computer for analysis.
The major barrier holding the test back from being disseminated widely is accuracy. The research team say they’ve achieved 88 percent accuracy with the USB stick test, which is a good start, but it’ll need to be improved to around 95 percent accuracy to be feasible. The less accurate the test is, the more likely it is that the person will need to take multiple tests or make the trip to a lab or hospital.
With improvement, the tests could be mass produced for use in areas located far away from hospitals or labs. It only takes 30 minutes to get results, too, allowing for effective treatment to start or adapt much faster than before. You can read the full research report, which is fortunately not locked behind a paywall, here.
Header Image: Imperial College London/DNA Electronics