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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 11, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 46
HIV test in a USB stick
Section One
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HIV test in a USB stick

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

British scientists have developed a USB stick that can quickly and accurately measure the amount of HIV is in a patient's blood.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, results show that the USB stick is highly accurate and can produce a reading in less than 30 minutes.

Current tests to detect the amount of HIV in the blood can take as much as three days, requiring patients to send blood samples to a lab. In the latest research, the USB stick tested 991 blood samples with 95% accuracy, in only 21 minutes.

The device was created by scientists at Imperial College London and tech firm DNA Electronics, and all it needs is a simple drop of blood to measure HIV-1 levels.

When blood is placed onto a spot on the USB stick, the device senses the HIV-1 virus through a change in acidity levels. A mobile phone chip in the USB stick converts this information into an electrical signal, and the stick then feeds the result to an app on a handheld device or computer.

Patients can then read their own results anywhere they happen to be.

The disposable test allows HIV patients to monitor their treatment and could help patients in remote regions of the world, where more standard HIV tests are inaccessible.

Researchers warn that the technology is still in its early stages, but they hope it could allow patients to regularly monitor their virus levels similarly to the way people with diabetes check their blood sugar levels.

Standard treatment for HIV reduces virus levels to practically zero, but in some cases the antiretroviral medication stops working, often because the virus develops a resistance to the drugs.

The new USB stick can detect a rise in HIV levels and flag a potential problem with a patient's medications.

'[Monitoring] viral load is crucial to the success of HIV treatment,' noted study lead author Graham Cooke in a statement.

'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.'

The research team is now investigating the possibility of using the device to test for other viruses, as well, such as hepatitis.

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