Scientists have developed a type of HIV test on a USB stick

November 10, 2016
USB stick that tests for HIV. Credit: Imperial College London / DNA Electronics

Scientists have developed a type of HIV test on a USB stick.

The device, created by scientists at Imperial College London and DNA Electronics, uses a drop of blood to detect HIV, and then creates an electrical signal that can be read by a computer, laptop or handheld device.

The disposable test could be used for HIV patients to monitor their own treatment.

Furthermore, the could enable patients with HIV to be managed more effectively in remote locations.

New research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows the device is not only very accurate, but can produce a result in under 30 minutes.

The new technology monitors the amount of virus in the bloodstream. This is crucial to monitoring a patient's treatment.

Current tests to detect the amount of virus take at least three days, often longer, and involves sending a blood sample to a laboratory. In many parts of the world, particularly those with the highest number of HIV infections, such testing does not exist at all.

The current treatment for HIV, called anti-retroviral treatment, reduces virus levels to near zero.

USB stick that tests for HIV. Credit: Imperial College London / DNA Electronics

However, in some cases the medication may stop working - perhaps because the HIV virus has developed resistance to the drugs. The first indication of this would be a rise in virus levels in the bloodstream.

Furthermore, regularly monitoring of viral levels enables healthcare teams to check a patient is taking their medication. Stopping medication fuels HIV drug-resistance, which is an emerging global problem.

Viral levels cannot be detected by routine HIV tests, which use antibodies, as these can only tell whether a person has been infected.

Dr Graham Cooke, senior author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial explained: "HIV treatment has dramatically improved over the last 20 years - to the point that many diagnosed with the infection now have a normal life expectancy.

"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."

Dr Cooke added that this technology, although in the early stages, could allow patients to regularly monitor their virus levels in much the same way that people with diabetes check their blood sugar levels.

USB stick that tests for HIV. Credit: Imperial College London / DNA Electronics

The technology could be particularly powerful in remote regions in sub-Saharan Africa, which may not have easy access to testing facilities. Finding out quickly if a patient, particularly a baby, is infected with the virus is crucial to their long term health and survival.

The device, which uses a mobile phone chip, just needs small sample of blood. This is placed onto a spot on the USB stick. If any HIV virus is present in the sample, this triggers a change in acidity which the chip transforms into an . This is sent to the USB stick, which produces the result in a programme on a computer or electronic device.

In the latest research, the technology tested 991 blood samples with 95 per cent accuracy. The average time to produce a result was 20.8 minutes.

The team are also investigating whether the device can be used to test for other viruses such as hepatitis. The technology was developed in conjunction with the Imperial spinout company DNA Electronics which is using the same technology to develop a device for detecting bacterial and fungal sepsis and antibiotic resistance.

Professor Chris Toumazou, DNAe's Founder, Executive Chairman and Regius Professor at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial added: "This is a great example of how this new analysis technology has the potential to transform how patients with HIV are treated by providing a fast, accurate and portable solution. At DNAe we are already applying this highly adaptable technology to address significant global threats to health, where treatment is time-critical and needs to be right first time."

Explore further: Personalised prescription tool could help to combat antibiotic resistance

Related Stories

Cellphone-sized device quickly detects the Ebola virus

April 27, 2016

The worst of the recent Ebola epidemic is over, but the threat of future outbreaks lingers. Monitoring the virus requires laboratories with trained personnel, which limits how rapidly tests can be done. Now scientists report ...

New sensor technology could speed up blood test analysis

September 14, 2016

Researchers at the University of York have developed a new sensor that is capable of detecting multiple proteins and enzymes in a small volume of blood, which could significantly speed up diagnostic healthcare processes.

A new paper-based test for the Zika virus

May 6, 2016

A new paper-based test developed at MIT and other institutions can diagnose Zika virus infection within a few hours. The test, which distinguishes Zika from the very similar dengue virus, can be stored at room temperature ...

Recommended for you

Scientific advances can make it easier to recycle plastics

November 17, 2017

Most of the 150 million tons of plastics produced around the world every year end up in landfills, the oceans and elsewhere. Less than 9 percent of plastics are recycled in the United States, rising to about 30 percent in ...

The spliceosome—now available in high definition

November 17, 2017

UCLA researchers have solved the high-resolution structure of a massive cellular machine, the spliceosome, filling the last major gap in our understanding of the RNA splicing process that was previously unclear.

Ionic 'solar cell' could provide on-demand water desalination

November 15, 2017

Modern solar cells, which use energy from light to generate electrons and holes that are then transported out of semiconducting materials and into external circuits for human use, have existed in one form or another for over ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NIPSZX
not rated yet Nov 10, 2016
I am going to buy one of these in 2025, when they are released to the public
rrrander
not rated yet Nov 15, 2016
Anyone today who contracts HIV through unsafe sex or drug abuse today deserves it. Darwin selects the unintelligent for termination. Or he used to, before the socialist "state" decided these people were worth saving. Now, through sexual misadventure, they almost willing contract HIV because they think it's no longer fatal. So they saddle the tax-payer with a $40,000 year tab to keep them alive, so they can spread the virus.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.