Handheld, Lab-Quality HIV Test

HIV testing has a new technology that works in the middle of nowhere

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can’t be cured, but it can be managed with treatment. The first step is an accurate diagnosis. In remote areas, diagnosis may have just improved.

A recent study tested the accuracy of a handheld HIV diagnostic device in Rwanda. Results showed 100 percent accurate HIV diagnostics. In addition, the device was successful at uploading patient information in real time via a cell phone connection.

This device could make it possible to test for HIV in remote areas all over the world where communication and electrical power are limited.

"Talk to your doctor about HIV testing."

Samuel K. Sia, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Jessica Justman, MD, associate clinical professor of medicine, at Columbia University, worked with a group of colleagues to develop a handheld testing device.

Dr. Sia said, “We’ve built a handheld mobile device that can perform laboratory-quality HIV testing, and do it in just 15 minutes and on finger-pricked whole blood. And, unlike current HIV rapid tests, our device can pick up positive samples normally missed by lateral flow tests, and automatically synchronize the test results with patient health records across the globe using both the cell phone and satellite networks.”

In the past, healthcare providers in remote settings used a diagnostic tool called ELISA to perform lab tests for things like HIV testing. The ELISA test takes several hours to yield results that are not always correct.

For this study, researchers tested the accuracy of a handheld mobile device for HIV testing on 167 patients in Rwanda. To test the device's accuracy, researchers put select patients through three different types of testing using serum, plasma and whole blood samples.

Results of the handheld device were 100 percent accurate for HIV positive and negative testing.

Each of the testing results successfully uploaded into a cloud network via cell phone or satellite communication from the handheld device, which uses about as much power as a cell phone to operate.

Researchers determined the handheld device to be more accurate in diagnosing HIV than existing rapid tests, and 10 times faster than the ELISA test.

Dr. Justman said, “This is an important step forward for us towards making a real impact on patients. And with the real-time data upload, policymakers and epidemiologists can also monitor disease prevalence across geographical regions more quickly and effectively.”

The authors concluded the handheld device may be a low-cost mobile blood test tool that has laboratory-level accuracy for HIV diagnosis with that ability to synchronize patient health record information in real time to the cloud database.

The development of a new low-cost handheld device for accurately diagnosing HIV in the field could help remote patients become aware of their condition earlier and therefore begin treatment earlier.

This study was published in January in Clinical Chemistry.

The United States Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Government of Norway, Grand Challenges Canada and the World Bank provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 28, 2013
Last Updated:
August 19, 2013