Rapid, early warning HIV test in development thanks to £1 million funding

HIV Diagnostic Device

A new hand-held device that can diagnose patients at the early stages of HIV and give results within minutes is in development following a £1 million investment in the technology.

The device, which resembles a smart phone, will help widen access to HIV testing in non-hospital settings, including GP surgeries, pharmacies, and community settings as the test and delivery of results will occur immediately. It could also be of benefit to health workers in developing countries who urgently need rapid and affordable ways to diagnose patients.

Researchers from UCL (University College London) and industry partners OJ-Bio have been awarded the Invention for Innovation (i4i) grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The new device uses low-cost electrical sensors developed by OJ-Bio and partners Japan Radio Company, that are already used in mobile phones, called surface acoustic wave sensors. It will combine OJ-Bio’s innovative sensor technology with special HIV-specific coatings developed at UCL. So far the technology has been proven to work using model HIV samples. Thanks to NIHR i4i funding, early stage clinical work will develop the technology to operate in human blood.

Dr Rachel McKendry, Reader in Biomedical Nanoscience at the London Centre for Nanotechnology and lead investigator from UCL said: “At the very early stages of HIV, marker proteins in a patient’s blood are often very difficult to detect with current point of care tests. The beauty of our technology is its inherent sensitivity to low levels of multiple markers, with the potential for much earlier diagnosis of HIV. This will empower patients to gain earlier access to antiretroviral treatment with better associated health outcomes.”

“It is exciting to work with OJ-Bio to develop this technology which could potentially benefit millions of people.”

Dr Dale Athey CEO of OJ Bio added: “The sensors are coated with a layer that captures HIV markers in a finger prick of blood. When these marker proteins associated with HIV stick to the sensor surface they alter its electrical signal related to the concentration in the sample. Our biochip devices are based purely on electrical components and therefore suitable for low cost mass manufacture.”

The device rapidly displays clear advice messages on a screen, and where appropriate can be wirelessly transmitted to secure healthcare systems.

Professor Deenan Pillay, an NHS Consultant in Medical Virology, Director of UCL Partners Infectious Disease Programme and co-investigator, said: “There remain too many HIV infected individuals being diagnosed at a late stage of disease who require expensive hospital care and who have a significant risk of death. It is essential for HIV testing to be made easier and more accessible across a range of social and healthcare settings, such that they can be diagnosed and given effective treatment to prevent further ill health, and risk of transmission to others. Our research programme is dedicated to the development of novel tests which can fulfil this urgent requirement”

Robin Weiss, Professor of Viral Oncology at UCL, whose pioneering work in identifying the receptor for HIV has deepened our understanding of HIV/AIDS, adds: “The small and rapidly working device to detect several different markers important in HIV infection promises to be very important both in the UK and in Africa”.

Developing a prototype hand-held device ready for clinical trials brings together a multidisciplinary team of scientists and researchers from the London Centre for Nanotechnology, UCL/MRC Centre for Medical Molecular Virology, UCL/UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, UCL Partners and the Royal Free NHS Foundation, working together with Newcastle based company OJ Bio and their partners Japan Radio Company, a leading wireless communications company.

In the UK, there are an estimated 100,000 carriers of HIV but more than 25% are unaware of their infection. Worldwide, HIV/AIDS has grown to pandemic proportions and today there are 35 million people living with the virus, two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa.


Notes to editors

  1. For more information or to interview Dr Rachel McKendry or Professor Deenan Pillay, please contact Clare Ryan in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 3108 3846, mobile: +44 07747 565 056, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: clare.ryan@ucl.ac.uk.
  2. UCL investigators: Dr Rachel McKendry (http://www.london-nano.com/our-people/academics/rachel-mckendry), Professor Deenan Pillay, Professor Robin Weiss and Professor Vince Emery
  3. OJ Bio investigators: Dr Dale Athey (CEO) and Dr Hiromi Yatsuda
  4. Image - The image shows the prototype diagnostic reader with smart phone connection. The image is courtesy of OJ-Bio.

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has 24,000 students from almost 140 countries, and more than 9,500 employees. Our annual income is over £800 million.

www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews

About OJ-Bio

OJ-Bio Ltd is a joint venture between UK nano-biotechnology specialists Orla Protein Technologies Ltd (www.orlaproteins.com) and leading Japanese electronics and communications company Japan Radio Company Ltd (www.jrc.co.jp).  OJ-Bio has developed a biosensor platform based upon Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) technology, which allows the low cost, rapid measurement of disease markers, electronic storage and wireless connectivity.

Web:  http://www.oj-bio.com | Twitter @ojbio

About NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).

About i4i

The i4i programme aims to support and advance the research and development of innovative healthcare technologies and their translation into the clinical environment for the benefit of patients through:

 • guided progression of innovative medical product prototypes, and

 • provision of business advice to the medical technology professionals it funds.

i4i supports projects through prototype and commercial development to introduction and adoption in the NHS.