The device uses a drop of blood to detect HIV, and then creates an electrical signal that can be read by a computer, laptop or handheld device.
According to the researchers, the technology, although in the early stages, could allow patients to regularly monitor their virus levels in much the same way that people with diabetes check their blood sugar levels.
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, since current tests to detect virus levels take at least three days and involve sending a blood sample to a laboratory.
“Monitoring viral load is crucial to the success of HIV treatment. 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,” said Senior Author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, Dr Graham Cooke.
The device, which uses a mobile phone chip, just needs small sample of blood. This is placed onto a spot on the USB stick. If any HIV virus is present in the sample, this triggers a change in acidity, which the chip transforms into an electrical signal. This is sent to the USB stick, which produces the result in a programme on a computer or electronic device.
According to the research published in the journal Scientific Reports, the technology tested 991 blood samples with 95% accuracy, and the average time to produce a reading was 20.8 minutes.
Researchers are also hoping that the technology can be used to test for hepatitis and other viruses. DNAe is already using the setup to develop a testing method for sepsis and antibiotic resistance.
“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,” said Founder of DNAe and Regius Professor at Imperial, Professor Chris Toumazou.
“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,” concluded Professor Toumazou.