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New funding boosts UCL's project to develop early warning HIV test system

27 November 2012

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.

The prototype diagnostic reader with smart phone connection (photo credit: OJ-Bio)
The prototype diagnostic reader with smart phone connection (photo credit: OJ-Bio)

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 funding under the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme.

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.

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