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Scientists developed a USB stick that can perform an HIV test

The compact device could be used by doctors and patients to monitor treatment.
Billy Steele
November 10, 2016
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When is comes to HIV tests, a drop of blood and a USB stick may be all patients need in the near future. Scientists at the Imperial College London developed a device with the help of medical testing company DNA Electronics that detects HIV levels in the bloodstream and creates a signal that can be read using a computer or handheld gadget. The disposable testing units could be used to help HIV patients monitor their treatment as well as improve how doctors manage the virus in remote locations.

The compact device monitors the amount of the HIV virus that's present in a patient's bloodstream, a measurement that's essential in keeping tabs on how effective treatment is battling the virus. Monitoring the amount of the virus that's present in a blood sample can let doctors know if a patient stops taking their medication or if the current course of action has stopped working. Researchers are also hoping that the technology can be used to test for hepatitis and other viruses. DNA Electronics is already using the setup to develop a testing method for sepsis and antibiotic resistance.

The USB stick is not only very accurate, but it can offer results on HIV levels in less than 30 minutes. In fact, the average wait time for results was just over 20 minutes during the research phase. That's a huge improvement from the current wait time of about three days, mostly due to the fact that a blood sample has to be sent to a lab for analysis. As you might expect, those types of labs don't exist in certain parts of the world where HIV rates are highest.

Driven by a mobile phone chip, the gadget only needs a small amount of blood to perform its analysis. When the HIV virus is detected in the blood sample, the USB stick triggers a change in acidity which the aforementioned chip transforms into an electric signal. That signal is then translated into a reading for a program on either a computer or other electronic device. During the latest round of trials, the setup tested nearly 1,000 samples with 95 percent accuracy. In the meantime, scientists are hard at work on a cure for HIV, but a solution there could still be a long way off.

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