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HIV Update: USB Stick That Tests For HIV Could Aid Developing Nations

Nov 11, 2016 04:20 AM EST
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A new USB stick could perform HIV tests faster and more accurately and could help people in developing countries manage their treatment more effectively.

The device, which could provide a fast and highly accurate reading of the amount of virus in the patient's blood, was developed by scientists from the Imperial College London and the U.S. firm DNA Electronics.

The USB stick has a mobile phone chip where a drop of blood will be placed to detect HIV levels. Any HIV in the sample will trigger an acidity change, which creates electrical signals that can be read by a computer, laptop or a handheld device.

"Monitoring viral load is crucial to the success of HIV treatment," Graham Cooke, co-researcher from Imperial College London's department of medicine, said in a statement. "At the moment, testing often requires costly and complex equipment that can take a couple of days to produce a result."

According to the researchers, testing for HIV levels is important as it allows patients to know if their HIV medications are working well. Treatments could lower levels of the virus in the blood to almost zero, but if the virus develops drug resistance, HIV levels in the blood will increase.

Current tests could take at least three days where the blood samples would have to be taken to the laboratory, and this could be difficult in poorer nations, the researchers said. But the new tool is portable and could perform the test in less than 30 minutes.

Testing for HIV levels is also one way for medical experts to check if patients are taking their medications, Live Science reports. According to the researchers, discontinuing medication can cause the virus to develop resistance against medicines.

The researchers tested the device on 991 blood samples and the results showed that the USB stick test was 95 percent accurate. The average time to get a reading was 20.8 minutes. But the researchers said that further developments are needed before the device could be used.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 36.7 million people in the world are living with HIV/AIDS, with the Sub-Saharan Africa being the most severely affected. Current HIV-fighting drugs called antiretrovirals reduce levels of virus to nearly zero. But there are cases when the virus develops resistance to antiretrovirals, which could be detected through the increase in the patient's "viral load."

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