Smartphone tool – as effective as modern techniques – detects HIV in 15 minutes

11 Feb 2015

HIV and Syphillis testing dongle, via Columbia Engineering

Researchers at Columbia University in New York City have developed a device that, when connected to a smartphone, can accurately test for HIV in patients. It costs just US$34.

By pricking your finger to draw a drop of blood, you can test for HIV or syphilis and receive results in just 15 minutes.

Trials in Rwanda, which sampled a pool of 96 subjects, showed the device worked as effectively as modern techniques, according to the researchers. Also at US$34, it is US$18,000 less expensive than other modern practices.

According to a report, healthcare workers obtained diagnostic results in 15 minutes from the new devices that rivalled the gold standard of laboratory-based HIV ELISA and rapid plasma reagin (a screening test for syphilis).

Clever use of energy

Powered by the headphone jack in a smartphone, the device is also creative in a way that allows for power outages, something the researchers experienced while running the trials.

“While we were in Rwanda, for example, the power went out in one of the clinics and the rest of the healthcare workers couldn’t run the test that they do, but our device, because … it’s power-free and easy to use, we could still keep testing,” said Samiksha Nayak, a member of the research team.

“I have no doubt that this kind of device will, some day in the future, be used by people all over the world,” said Columbia biomedical engineering associate professor Samuel Sia.

“These are tests that, potentially, consumers and patients can run by themselves,” said Columbia biomedical engineering associate professor Samuel Sia.

“Choices are available for consumers that we didn’t have before about our own health and so being able to monitor what’s going on in our body is going to be part of that trend.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic