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UCL-led team develops fast HIV diagnostic tool

27 September 2017

A team led by Professor Rachel McKendry (UCL London Centre of Nanotechnology) have published new research showing promising developments towards a mobile phone-connected diagnostic tool that can detect HIV in seconds. 

Rachel McKendry

Early detection of HIV plays an important role in containing outbreaks, however currently available tests require complex lab equipment, highly trained staff, and long wait times for results.

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dr Valérian Turbé (UCL London Centre for Nanotechnology), says “This could mean delays in people with HIV receiving essential, life-saving treatment and increase the risk of transmission.”

Access to antiretroviral treatment has been reported to increase life-expectancy by 10 years, reduce infant mortality by 76 per cent and can almost completely prevent transmission from pregnant women to their babies.  

Harnessing Surface Acoustic Wave Biochips

With funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the newly developed diagnostic tool needs just a single finger prick of blood to produce a positive test result within 10 seconds by harnessing surface acoustic wave (SAW) biochips, which are based on components already found in every consumer smartphone.

The findings open up the potential for consumer electronics to cut lengthy test waiting times, giving patients on the spot access to treatment and supporting more timely public health interventions to prevent disease.

CEO of OJ-Bio, Dr Dale Athey, explains, “Current point-of-care tests for HIV based on lateral flow technology are still relatively slow, with most between 10-20 minutes to produce results, which exceeds the approximate nine minutes for a doctor’s appointment in the UK.”

“The 10 second result time achieved here makes this approach a potential game changer.”

Supporting patients and healthcare workers

The device comprises of a disposable biochip, a pocket-sized control box reader developed by OJ-Bio, and a mobile device to analyse display and transmit results.

The speed and accuracy of the tests will help to support patients and front-line health-workers by widening access to testing outside of hospital settings, and cut waiting times.

Professor McKendry says, “This is an exciting breakthrough that lays the foundations for future clinical studies and product development.

"If successful, this platform technology could revolutionalise rapid HIV diagnosis and deliver major health and economic benefit to millions of people worldwide.”

This work was funded by the NIHR i4i programme and EPSRC IRC in Early Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases.

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