Scientists develop HIV test using a USB stick

By Ryan Maass  |  Nov. 10, 2016 at 9:48 AM
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LONDON, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- Researchers have developed a screening test for HIV that uses a USB stick to process data in a move they say vastly improves upon conventional methods.

Typically, HIV screenings can take as long as three days to produce results. Scientists at Imperial College London and DNA Electronics say their novel solution is not only more accurate, but can provide a diagnostic in roughly 30 minutes with the help of a computer or handheld device.

The USB device works by using a drop of blood to create an electrical signal that can be read by a computer. The technology then measures the amount of the virus in the blood. Patients can also use it to monitor their own treatment. Researchers tested their new method in a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"Monitoring viral load is crucial to the success of HIV treatment," senior author Graham Cooke said in a press release. "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."

During the study, the technology was used to test 991 blood samples with 95 percent accuracy. Results were produced in an average time of 20.8 minutes. Researchers say the ease of the test may have positive implications for Sub-Saharan Africa and other HIV hotspots where many conventional tests are often unavailable.

"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," DNA Electronics founder Chris Toumazou said. "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."

Scientists say the next step will be investigating how the USB device can be used to screen for other viral infections such as hepatitis.

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