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Simple, Low-Cost Device to Disgnose HIV, Syphilis in 15 Minutes

labona chip

Professor Samuel K. Sia’s lab-on-a-chip (Photo courtesy: Columbia University)

A new device to identify antibodies for HIV and syphilis has been developed by scientists at Columbia University in New York, which can be used as an accessory to smartphone plugged into the audio jack for tests ten times faster and at far less cost.

Priced $34, the device called dongle can perform all mechanical, optical and electronic functions of a traditional lab-based diagnostic equipment that comes at $18,000. It is also quicker in giving results in 15 minutes, using the smartphone’s power source.

Samuel Sia of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University, describes it as a major advance towards providing people in remote areas of the world with laboratory-quality diagnostic services. “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,” Sia says.

Unlike current HIV rapid tests, the new 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, he explains.

Sia has partnered with Claros Diagnostics to develop the pioneering device for an integrated microfluidic-based diagnostic device—the mChip, that can perform complex laboratory assays, and do so with such simplicity that these tests can easily be carried out anywhere, including in resource-limited settings, at a very low cost.

Sia was named by the MIT’s Technology Review magazine as one the World’s Top Young Innovators for 2010 for his groundbreaking work in bio-engineering.

The devices are being developed in a collaboration with Claros Diagnostics Inc., a venture capital-backed startup company that Sia co-founded in 2004, as well as the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

Sia’s work also focuses on developing new high-resolution tools to control the extracellular environments around cells that helps to study how they interact to form human tissues and organs.

He combines use of techniques from biochemistry, molecular biology, microfabrication, microfluidics, materials chemistry, and cell and tissue biology.

“There are a set of core functions that such a mobile device has to deliver,” he says. “These include fluid pumping, optical detection, and real-time synchronization of diagnostic results with patient records in the cloud. We’ve been able to engineer all these functions on a handheld mobile device and all powered by a battery.”

Samuel Sia was named 2010 ‘Young Innovator’ too.

This new technology, which combines cell phone and wi-fi communication uses fluid miniaturization techniques for performing all essential ELISA functions to diagnose HIV-infected people who, often left undiagnosed due to the centralized testing centres in cities, far away from the remote rural areas.

The device has been successfully tested by health care workers in Rwanda to do instant finger-prick blood test on 96 patients, including pregnant women who were at risk of passing sexually transmitted diseases or syphilis to their babies.

The results were found to be 92 to 100 percent accurate. The researchers are now planning to take it to a larger test environment to get the approval of agencies like the World Health Organization. The Gates Foundation was one of the major supporters of the project, and the findings have been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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