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Low-cost device speeds HIV diagnosis and clinical record updates

25 January 2013

A device is able to assess a patient's HIV status from a finger prick sample and synchronise the results with central health care records ten times faster than existing techniques.

Professor Sam Sia's handheld mobile device is a fast, low-cost device that uses the cloud to speed up diagnostic testing for HIV and other infections (photo Columbia Engineering)

Samuel Sia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, has taken his innovative lab-on-a-chip device and developed a way to check a patient's HIV status anywhere in the world with just a finger prick, and synchronise the results automatically and instantaneously with central health-care records, some ten times faster, according to the team, than the benchtop ELISA, a broadly used diagnostic technique. The device was field-tested in Rwanda by a collaborative team from the Sia lab and ICAP at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health.

"We've built a handheld mobile device that can perform laboratory-quality HIV testing, and do it in just 15 minutes and on finger-pricked whole blood," Sia says. "And, unlike current HIV rapid tests, our device can pick up positive samples normally missed by lateral flow tests, and automatically synchronise the test results with patient health records across the globe using both the cell phone and satellite networks."

Sia collaborated with Claros Diagnostics (a company he co-founded, now called OPKO Diagnostics) to develop a pioneering strategy for an integrated microfluidic-based diagnostic device (the mChip) that can perform complex laboratory assays, and do so with such simplicity that these tests can easily be carried out anywhere, including in resource-limited settings, at a very low cost. This new study builds upon his earlier scientific concepts and incorporates a number of new engineering elements that make the test automated to run with data communication over both cell phone and satellite networks.

"There are a set of core functions that such a mobile device has to deliver," he says. "These include fluid pumping, optical detection, and real-time synchronisation of diagnostic results with patient records in the cloud. We've been able to engineer all these functions on a handheld mobile device and all powered by a battery."

This new technology, which combines mobile phone and satellite communication technologies with fluid miniaturisation techniques for performing all essential ELISA functions, could lead to diagnosis and treatment for HIV-infected people who, because they cannot get to health care centres, do not get tested or treated.

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