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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 44
Brits announce new HIV test
Section One
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Brits announce new HIV test

Nanotechnology helps detect the virus at very low levels

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

British researchers have announced a new HIV test that is reportedly cheaper and more effective than previous tests.

According to an article in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the procedure can detect low levels of HIV as well as some cancers. Early testing showed that markers of HIV and prostate cancer could be detected. However, trials on a much larger scale will be needed before it could be used clinically, researchers say.

Developed by scientists at Imperial College in London, the technique offers the promise of better diagnosis and treatment in the developing world.

'Our approach affords for improved sensitivity, does not require sophisticated instrumentation, and is 10 times cheaper' than current tests, lead researcher Molly Stevens told The Daily Mail newspaper.

COLOR CODED
The new sensor works by testing serum, a clear watery fluid derived from blood samples, in a disposable container for the presence of an HIV biomarker called p24.

If p24 is present, even in minute concentrations, it causes the tiny gold nanoparticles to clump together in an irregular pattern that turns the solution blue. A negative result separates them into ball shapes that generate a red color.

The researchers also used the test to pick up the biomarker for prostate cancer, called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA).

The researchers say their test allows the results to be detected with 'the naked eye.'

'This method should be used when the presence of a target molecule at ultra-low concentration could improve the diagnosis of disease,' Stevens told BBC News.

'For example, it is important to detect some molecules at ultra-low concentrations to test cancer recurrence after tumor removal. It can also help with diagnosing HIV-infected patients whose viral load is too low to be detected with current methods.'

AFRICA COULD BENEFIT
Stevens' fellow researcher, Dr. Roberto de la Rica, said the new test 'could be significantly cheaper to administer, which could pave the way for more widespread use of HIV testing in poorer parts of the world.'

The researchers expect their design will cost 10 times less than current tests, which would make it particularly attractive to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where some 23 million people are reportedly living with HIV, out of a worldwide total of 34 million.

Stevens and de la Rica said they plan to approach nonprofit global health organizations to help them manufacture and distribute the new test in low-income countries.

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