Researchers say they have developed an HIV test that employs a common USB stick.
The device, which makes a diagnosis using a drop of blood, was developed by researchers at Imperial College London and a company called DNA Electronics.
According to an article about the device published in the journal Scientific Reports, the device can give accurate test results in under 30 minutes. That, researchers say, compares favorably with current tests, which can take up to three days to yield a result.
The USB stick device uses a mobile phone chip and requires only a small amount of blood, which is placed on a specific spot on the device.
Researchers say the device is 95 percent accurate.
“If any HIV virus is present in the sample, this triggers a change in acidity which the chip transforms into an electrical signal,” according to a news release about the device. “This is sent to the USB stick, which produces the result in a program on a computer or electronic device.”
Measuring the amount virus in the bloodstream is fundamental in treating the disease because current treatment for HIV, called anti-retroviral treatment, lowers the amounts of HIV in the blood.
If the medication were to stop working, for example because of possible HIV drug resistance, HIV levels in the blood would rise, and the device would allow someone to see their levels almost instantly
The device has another advantage in that it would allow patients to monitor their own treatment, even in remote areas.
"HIV treatment has dramatically improved over the past 20 years, to the point that many diagnosed with the infection now have a normal life expectancy,” said Dr Graham Cooke, senior author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial.
"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."
Ideally, Cooke said, the device could make monitoring HIV levels like monitoring blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
He added that the device would be very useful in areas of sub-Saharan Africa where medical facilities or personnel are not readily available.
For babies born in remote areas, the device offers a chance to diagnose a newborn quickly. This, researchers said, is “crucial” to a baby’s long-term health.
Researchers said they were also looking to create similar devices that could detect other viruses like hepatitis.