Humanity just took one big leap forward towards the tricorder era. A team of researchers from Columbia University have developed a device that can test for HIV, inactive syphilis infection, and active syphilis infection. The device (or dongle, as the team refers to it) only has a manufacturing cost of 4 dollars, and is used in conjunction with a smart phone. The manufacturing cost for lab equipment that does the equivalent testing costs over 8,000 dollars. The device is easy to use, just prick your finger for a blood sample and you can have your results in 15 minutes.
This is the first time that a device of this nature has been able to replicate the performance of a lab quality blood test. Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, who led the research group claims that the device will change the way that health care will operate around the world.
“Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory,” says Sia. “Coupling microfluidics with recent advances in consumer electronics can make certain lab-based diagnostics accessible to almost any population with access to smartphones. This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the world.”
Field-testing was done in Rwanda with remarkable results. After only 30 minutes of training health care workers were able to operate the device, perform the blood tests, and record the results. Afterwards, 97% of patients said they would recommend the device, mainly for the speed at which it delivered results.
“Our dongle presents new capabilities for a broad range of users, from health care providers to consumers,” Sia adds. “By increasing detection of syphilis infections, we might be able to reduce deaths by 10-fold. And for large-scale screening where the dongle’s high sensitivity with few false negatives is critical, we might be able to scale up HIV testing at the community level with immediate antiretroviral therapy that could nearly stop HIV transmissions and approach elimination of this devastating disease.”
The best way to stop the spread of HIV is through early diagnosis. Most people who spread the disease are unaware that they are infected. People who are treated for HIV can have the infection nearly eradicated from their system. This makes it so that even though they have the disease still, they are significantly less likely to spread it.
“We are really excited about the next steps in bringing this product to the market in developing countries,” he continues. “And we are equally excited about exploring how this technology can benefit patients and consumers back home.”
I think the world is will be excited to have this hit the shelves of every drug store and in every rural healthcare center.
Here is a demonstration of the device: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TC9XNqSgj4w