Diagnosing HIV at record speeds

New research from LCN-based i-sense just published in Scientific Reports, shows promising developments towards a mobile phone-connected diagnostic tool that can detect HIV within seconds.

Early detection of HIV plays an important role in containing outbreaks, however currently available tests require complex lab equipment, highly trained staff, and long wait times for results.

Postdoctoral Research Associate from i-sense’ McKendry group at UCL, Dr Valérian Turbé, says “This could mean delays in people with HIV receiving essential, life-saving treatment and increase the risk of transmission.”

Access to antiretroviral treatment has been reported to increase life-expectancy by 10 years, reduce infant mortality by 76 per cent and can almost completely prevent transmission from a pregnant women to their baby.

Harnessing surface acoustic wave (SAW) biochips

With funding from the NIHR, the newly developed diagnostic tool needs just a single finger prick of bloody to produce a positive test result within 10 seconds by harnessing surface acoustic wave (SAW) biochips, which are based on components already found in every consumer smartphone.

The findings open up the potential for consumer electronics to cut lengthy test waiting times, giving patients on the spot access to treatment and supporting more timely public health interventions to prevent disease.

OJ-Bio Technical Director, Dr Hiromi Yatsuda, says “SAW technologies have helped to improve mobile phones for the last two decades and enable the personal communications revolution.

“In the next two decades, we envisage SAW technologies enabling a similar revolution in mobile diagnostics and home health care.”

The Foundation of Innovative Diagnostic’s (FIND) target product profile for a HIV self-test for use in the home highlights the need for results in under five minutes.

CEO of OJ-Bio, Dr Dale Athey, explains, “Current point-of-care tests for HIV based on lateral flow technology are still relatively slow, with most between 10-20 minutes to produce results, which exceeds the approximate nine minutes for a doctor’s appointment in the UK.”

“The 10 second result time achieved here makes this approach a potential game changer.”

Supporting patients and healthcare workers

The device comprises of a disposable biochip, a pocket-sized control box reader developed by OJ-Bio, and a mobile device to analyse display and transmit results.

The speed and accuracy of the tests will help to support patients and front-line health-workers by widening access to testing outside of hospital settings, and cut waiting times.

Professor of Biomedical Nanotechnology at UCL and Director of i-sense, Professor Rachel McKendry says, “This is an exciting breakthrough that lays the foundations for future clinical studies and product development.

"If successful, this platform technology could revolutionalise rapid HIV diagnosis and deliver major health and economic benefit to millions of people worldwide.”

This work was funded by the NIHR i4i programme and EPSRC IRC in Early Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases.

Links to Research paper in Scientific Reports

Other contributors: 
Jennifer Brookes (LCN)