New test uses USB chip to screen for HIV

A newly developed diagnostic USB flash drive collects a drop of blood and then creates an electrical signal read by a computer to detect HIV.

According to the journal Scientific Reports, the team that manufactured the device tested nearly 1,000 blood samples with a 95 percent accuracy rate. On average, the device produced results after 20.8 minutes. The test can also determine the level of the virus in the blood, which routine HIV tests are not capable of. Currently tests that detect the amount of the virus in the blood take at least three days, often longer, and involve sending a blood sample to a laboratory.

The test holds significant implications for HIV testing in parts of the world where the availability of testing is greatly limited. Dissemination of this newly developed device could also improve HIV treatment for individuals who already tested positive for the virus. Clinicians can use the test to regularly monitoring patients' viral levels to determine whether the treatment is effective or if patients are adhering to medication recommendations.

"HIV treatment has dramatically improved over the last 20 years — to the point that many diagnosed with the infection now have a normal life expectancy," said Graham Cooke, MD, PhD, senior author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London. "However, 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."

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