Translational medicine at it finest! Another technological innovation that is going to change the way we do things, is here. A team of researchers led by Samuel K. Sia, Associate professor of Biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering have developed a low-cost smartphone accessory (dongle) which can detect the presence of infectious disease markers such as HIV and Syphilis with just a finger prick of blood. The best part is they estimate it would cost just $34 and you can obtain the results in just 15mins! This is the first time a device can replicate all the mechanical, optical and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test in a single test format. It is based on the ELISA test which is routinely used in laboratories for screening, and doesn’t need any external power to operate. They use the audio jack of smart phones for transmitting power and for data transmission. Since the audio jacks are standardised (for iPhones and Android phones), the dongle could be easily attached and used for testing. This study was published in Science Translational Medicine on February 4.
As a pilot project, it was used by health care workers in Rwanda on 96 patients who had enrolled into prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission clinics. The aim was to build a rapid point-of-care, portable diagnostic system for HIV, Syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases(STDs), which when detected early can greatly reduce adverse consequences in mothers and their babies. The team developed a dongle which was small and light enough to be held in one hand, and it runs assays on disposable plastic cassettes with pre-loaded reagents, where disease-specific zones provided an objective read-out, like the ELISA assay. Due to its user-friendly interface, step-by-step pictorial directions, built-in timers to alert the user to next steps, and the ability to store results for review later- a vast majority (97%) of these patients recommended the dongle for its ease of use and its fast turn-around time.
“Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory,” says Sia. “Coupling microfluidics with recent advances in consumer electronics can make certain lab-based diagnostics accessible to almost any population with access to smartphones. This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the world.”
The researchers are planning to commercialize the product. “We are really excited about the next steps in bringing this product to the market in developing countries,” says Sia . “Our dongle presents new capabilities for a broad range of users, from health care providers to consumers,” Sia adds. “By increasing detection of syphilis infections, we might be able to reduce deaths by 10-fold. And for large-scale screening where the dongle’s high sensitivity with few false negatives is critical, we might be able to scale up HIV testing at the community level with immediate antiretroviral therapy that could nearly stop HIV transmissions and approach elimination of this devastating disease.”
The original publication can be accessed here.