Could a US$34 smartphone device improve HIV diagnosis?


A pilot study to identify antibodies for HIV and syphilis showed that the smartphone device was nearly as effective as the more costly diagnostic blood testing equipment, US scientists have said.

The mobile lab device, known as a dongle, cost US$34 to make, compared with more than US$18,000 for the gold standard diagnostic equipment. The study took place in Africa and showed that the device performed all of the mechanical, optical and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test in 15 minutes, using only power drawn from the smartphone.

It was developed by a team lead by Samuel Sia, an associate professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University in New York.

‘Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory,’ Sia said.

To test its effectiveness, healthcare workers in Rwanda used the tool to do finger-prick blood tests on 96 patients, including women who were at risk of passing sexually transmitted diseases to their unborn children.

The team compared the results with standard enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA testing, and found the results were nearly as accurate. Researchers estimate that with syphilis, a test with only 70% to 80% sensitivity and specificity that was performed at the point of care could reduce deaths tenfold.

The researchers are planning a larger-scale clinical trial with the goal of winning approval by the World Health Organization for use in developing countries.


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