Scientists at Columbia University have developed an affordable and innovative device that plugs into smartphones and can test for both HIV and syphilis, delivering a diagnosis in as little as 15 minutes.
Presenting their findings in a paperreleased last week, medical researchers have recently come up with a device which allows smartphones to perform blood tests, analyse the results and diagnose certain diseases. .
The “diagnosis dongle” pictured above can be snapped onto a smartphone and comprises a single-use plastic cartridge and pump, operated by a mechanical button, which takes a pinprick of blood from the user’s finger and draws it through the device. There, the blood sample mixes with chemicals which react with markers for HIV and syphilis, changing in colour and opacity if antibodies are detected. These changes are read by the device and the data is sent to the smartphone app. The whole process is over in 15 minutes.
A recent trial, carried out with nearly 100 patients in Rwanda, found that the test was nearly as effective as a standard ELISA test for HIV, and well within the required clinical guidelines regarding accuracy. One area where this app trumps conventional testing methods is cost: where this device costs merely $34, typical ELISA equipment can carry a price tag of over $18,000. Healthcare workers successfully learn how to use the app in just 30 minutes, and 97 percent of patients reported a positive experience with the device.
For people living in remote areas, and with restricted access to skilled healthcare workers, the device offers a whole host of advantages. Rather than journeying miles to the nearest laboratory, back home again and then returning days or weeks later for the results, patients can receive test results quickly and efficiently without leaving their homes. The device runs without a battery, and without the need for mains power, making it practical for communities where power shortages are common. All the power needed to carry out the test is transmitted via the smartphone or computer’s audio jack, something which is standardized on devices around the world.
According to data from theWorld Health Organisation, in 2013 there were an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, 3.2 million of whom were children. Most HIV infections are passed from mother to child during pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding. However, if the infection is detected in time and the right steps are taken, the risk of transmission can be lowered to as low as under 5%. Syphilis infections also remain a global issue, with Samuel K. Sia, the leader of the research team that developed the device, telling Science Daily that increasing the detection of syphilis infections may lead to a dramatic 10-fold reduction in deaths.
So what does this mean for the future of medical testing? If every smartphone user holds the power of medical diagnosis in their own hands, could this revolutionise health care provisions around the world? With just the touch of a button and a small prick to the finger, one thing’s for certain: our everyday electronic devices just became a whole lot smarter.