Smartphone Dongle Tests For HIV And Syphilis In 15 Minutes

With the prick of a finger, this new portable smartphone accessory can detect HIV and syphilis in just a matter of minutes.

The accessory was developed by researchers at the Columbia University and it can spot markers of infectious diseases in 15 minutes, according to a report on Philly.

Researchers have indicated that the device is the first smartphone accessory which replicates all of the functionality of a laboratory-based blood test.

The device, which is essentially a dongle-style smartphone accessory coupled with an app, was tested by healthcare workers in Rwanda, who used it to analyze blood samples taken from 96 patients, of which 97% had a positive response to the device. The findings of the study were published on February 4, 2015 in the journal Science Translation Medicine. The study’s team leader, Samuel Sia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, indicated in a press release from the university that this type of device could “transform how health care services are delivered around the world.”

Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory… This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the world

Dr. Ambreen Khalil, who works at Staten Island University Hospital as an infectious disease specialist, was more reserved in his assessment of the device. Khalil acknowledged that the new technology was “an encouraging development,” but also noted that “there are significant limitations.”

This is a new technology that uses smartphones to detect antibodies against HIV and syphilis. Although an encouraging development, there are significant limitations, such as comparison with confirmatory tests in standardized laboratories… It would be interesting to evaluate its performance in other settings as well

Sia indicated that the device, which he called a dongle, “presents new capabilities for a broad range of users, from health care providers to consumers.”

“Our dongle presents new capabilities for a broad range of users, from health care providers to consumers,” Sia said.

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 accessory can detect three markers for sexually transmitted diseases.

Traditional laboratory tests administered around the world can take days for the results to be delivered, whereas the dongle can determine whether someone has syphilis or HIV in a mere 15 minutes.

The lead author of the study, Samuel Sia, told Fox News that he thinks “you could actually see a lot of savings, and more privacy and convenience” with his disease testing smartphone device.

The dongle replicates traditional lab-based diagnostics for the HIV antibody and the two markers for syphilis — the treponemal specific antibody and the non-treponemal antibody for active syphilis infection — in a single test. The device draws power from the smartphone to conduct an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which is a traditional STD test. Researchers note that this aspect of drawing power from the phone could increase its chances of success in places where electricity isn’t always available.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum, which is a pallidum subspecies. It is thought to have infected 12 million additional people worldwide in 1999.

Sia indicated that the disease testing accessory checks specifically for HIV and syphilis because they’re the two serious infections which can be passed from a mother to a child in the womb.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted syphilis and HIV as priority areas for disease control. The organization has indicated that almost 1.5 million pregnant women around the world are infected with probable active syphilis every year and that roughly half of them are untreated, which can lead to fetal loss, stillbirth and other conditions Fox News referred to as “devastating” in their coverage of Sia’s disease detecting smartphone technology. Sia was quoted in the report as having said that this “doesn’t mean other STDs aren’t on the list” because “they are”, and other non-STDs too.

That doesn’t mean other STDs aren’t on the list— they are, and other non-STDs are […] But these are priority because of the burden of disease and seriousness of disease, and how treatable they are.

Researchers conducted their tests at health care facilities located in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. They targeted areas of the country with a high concentration of HIV and syphilis incidences. They found the newly developed technology to be between 92 and 100 percent accurate for sensitivity and 79 to 100 percent accurate for specificity.

The most common HIV tests, antibody tests, look for HIV antibodies in the body as opposed to looking for HIV itself. Enzyme immunoassay (EIA) tests use blood, urine, or oral fluid to detect HIV antibodies, and it can take up to two weeks for results with these tests. Rapid HIV antibody tests use blood, urine, or oral fluid to detect HIV antibodies, but the results can be delivered as quickly as 10-20 minutes, according to AIDS.gov.

Typical ELISA equipment costs over $18,000, but the dongle created by Sia and his team costs just $34. He also indicated that the device has the potential to examine “hormone levels, cancer markers, diabetic markers, disease markers.”

What do you think of Sia’s inexpensive, smartphone-based solution which can test for HIV and syphilis? What about the possibilities portable health devices such as this one have to offer?

[Image via Business Insider]