Researchers from the Brigham and Women's Hospital have designed a portable diagnostic tool to detect and monitor the HIV virus. Using a cellphone and the power of nanotechnology, the device could help with the early detection of the virus in resource-limited environments.
"Early detection of HIV is critical to prevent disease progression and transmission, and it requires long-term monitoring, which can be a burden for families that have to travel to reach a clinic or hospital," said senior author Hadi Shafiee, PhD, a principal investigator in the Division of Engineering in Medicine and Renal Division of Medicine at the Brigham. "This rapid and low-cost cell phone system represents a new method for detecting acute infection, which would reduce the risk of virus transmission and could also be used to detect early treatment failure."
New device reduces the cost of monitoring destructive virus
Monitoring the HIV is expensive, requiring the use of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) a method of making multiple copies of a DNA sequence, involving repeated reactions with a polymerase. The new device developed by Shafiee and his colleagues will allow monitoring and early detection of the virus in countries and areas without advanced medical care.
The device utilizes a cellphone with a 3D printed phone attachment and a microchip. Using just a single drop of blood the device can detect the RNA nucleic acids of the virus.
Novel device could be used for other medical applications
During testing, the device was found to detect HIV with 99.1 percent specificity and 94.6 percent sensitivity at a clinically relevant threshold value of 1,000 virus particles/ml, with results within one hour. The total cost of the of the microchip, phone attachment and reagents was less than $5 per test.
"Health workers in developing countries could easily use these devices when they travel to perform HIV testing and monitoring. Because the test is so quick, critical decisions about the next medical step could be made right there," said Shafiee. "This would eliminate the burden of trips to the medical clinic and provide individuals with a more efficient means for managing their HIV."
"We could use this same technology as a rapid and low-cost diagnostic tool for other viruses and bacteria as well," said lead author Mohamed Shehata Draz, Ph.D., an instructor in the Division of Engineering in Medicine and Renal Division of Medicine at the Brigham. "This platform could help a lot of people worldwide."
Approximately 36.7 million people are living with HIV worldwide. According to HIV.gov, an estimated 1.8 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2016 – about 5,000 new infections per day. This includes 160,000 children.
Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.' The paper describing the research and publication appeared in Nature Communications.