The developers of a new low-cost mobile lab device that can turn any smartphone into an HIV and syphilis tester hope it could be a life-changer for HIV patients in remote parts of the world.
All it takes is a drop of blood and fifteen minutes.
The blood sample is placed on a plastic collector which is inserted into the to the user’s smartphone. The user then launches the app and pushes down a button down to release the reagents needed for the test.
Sam Sia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, led the work: “It’s really a matter of life and death, because for a lot of these patients simply cannot travel the distances to testing clinics to get their blood drawn and get the results, which means that they’re not treated for these conditions. And in this specific case, pregnant women, if they’re not treated for HIV or syphilis, will pass these diseases on to their newborns and a lot of times the newborns aren’t even born alive.”
Research carried out on around 100 patients in Rwanda, including women who were at risk of passing on sexually transmitted diseases to their unborn children, showed it to be almost as accurate as regular lab tests.
Its developers believe that the long-term plan for the device is far reaching, and that, eventually, it could also test for other STDs such as herpes and hepatitis, infectious diseases like malaria, or chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes.
“As long as these diseases can be diagnosed using a class of blood tests called ELISA tests, then we can replicate that. This doesn’t cover everything but it does cover a wide range of conditions. I think technology like this certainly has the potential to transform the healthcare system,” says Sam Sia.
The device took 10 years to make and costs around 30 euros, a fraction of the price of traditional diagnostic equipment.
The researchers are planning a larger-scale clinical trial and hope to win approval by the World Health Organisation for use in developing countries.