science

Scientists develop HIV test using a USB stick

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Researchers at Imperial College London and the privately-held U.S. firm DNA Electronics developed a type of HIV test using a USB Stick that will give a fast and highly accurate reading of how much virus is in a patient’s blood.

The device needs a drop of blood to be placed onto a spot on the USB stick to detect HIV and then creates an electrical signal that can read by a computer, laptop or handheld device. The USB stick is not only very accurate, but it can offer results on HIV levels in less than 30 minutes.

New technology, which is still in the early stages, could allow patients to regularly monitor their virus levels in a similar way to diabetes patients checking their blood sugar levels.

It could be particularly useful in remote settings to help HIV patients manage their treatment more effectively, since current tests to detect virus levels take at least three days and involve sending a blood sample to a laboratory.

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According to research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, results showed the stick test was 95% accurate over 991 blood samples, and the average time to produce a reading was 20.8 minutes.

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But in some cases the drugs stop working — sometimes because virus has developed resistance to them — and the first sign of that would be a rise in a patient’s so-called “viral load.”
Viral levels cannot be detected by routine HIV tests, which use antibodies, as these can only tell whether a person has been infected.

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