This USB-Sized Device Can Detect HIV in Under 30 Minutes

It brings the typical three-day wait for test results down to under half an hour.

by Samantha Cole
Nov 11 2016, 6:34pm

Image: Imperial College London

An HIV-positive diagnosis was often seen as a death sentence 20 years ago. Today, medical advancements have made it possible for positive-status patients to live long, normal lives in countries where drug therapies are available, but cost and time hurdles can make monitoring treatment cumbersome.

Scientists at Imperial College London and London-based DNA Electronics have created a device that is faster and easier than current HIV testing methods—shaving the typical three-day wait for results down to under 30 minutes, with high accuracy. The testing device is the size of a cell phone chip.

Their latest research tested 991 blood samples with 95 percent accuracy, in about 21 minutes to produce a result.

Read More: A Successful New HIV-Nuking Drug Wasn't Even Designed for HIV

Patients could place a drop of blood onto a spot on the USB stick, similarly to how diabetics might test their blood sugar levels. If the virus is detected in the drop, it triggers a change in acidity, translated into an electrical signal on the chip that is read in a computer USB drive.

Monitoring viral load is "crucial to the success of HIV treatment," Dr. Graham Cooke, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial and senior author of the research published in Scientific Reports, says 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."

The researchers see this being especially impactful in remote regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where access to testing and treatment can still mean life-or-death.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.