$34 accessory detects HIV, syphilis, and works with any smartphone

A new medical accessory developed by researchers at Columbia Engineering can detect HIV
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A new medical accessory developed by researchers at Columbia Engineering can detect HIV and syphilis in patients using a $34 smartphone accessory that duplicates test functions that normally requires $18,000 worth of medical equipment.
The new dongle draws power from a headphone jack and performs three types of tests — an HIV antibody test, a treponemal-specific antibody test, and a non-treponemal antibody test. These latter tests are for syphilis, but the lab equipment required to implement them is far too expensive for many hospitals or clinics in the developing world to implement.
The smartphone accessory uses a “one-push vacuum” to create a negative-pressure chamber that moves a set of reagents (required for the testing process) into the test chamber from a pre-stored cassette. The use of the headset for power is also considered an important innovation, as this eliminates the need for a dongle-specific battery of any sort. The headphone jack can also be used for data transmission, which is how the dongle interfaces with every smartphone on the market — since audio jacks are also standardized, there’s no need to implement iPhone or Android-specific variants. A video of the sample-taking and test process is shown below:


The project developer, Samuel K. Sia, has emphasized that the goal is to offer a lab-quality immunoassay in a mobile, handheld device that can deployed anywhere with minimal training. Targeting a disease like HIV is particularly important in pregnant women, as early treatment can significantly reduce the chance of passing the virus to their offspring. Similarly, syphilis can be transmitted between mother and child at birth. The two conditions are now often linked, and 90% of syphilis cases are now in the developing world thanks to the widespread deployment of antibiotics in more developed countries.
The smartphone accessory uses a “one-push vacuum” to create a negative-pressure chamber that moves a set of reagents
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According to the team, their initial test work in Rwanda focused on 96 patients, 97% of whom said they would recommend the test again to others based on ease-of-use, speed, and the ability to test for multiple disease. The device apparently does have a tendency to throw false positives that needs to be tuned further, but the end result is that technology like this could greatly reduce the cost of care for people in the developing world over the long term.


This particular breakthrough mirrors others we’ve seen in recent years, where the advent of modern cell phone technology
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The research team also wants to bring the same technology to the United States and other developed nations and while there’s likely to be a lengthy approval process, spiraling medical costs in the US, at least, mean that any such test devices would be extremely well received. This particular breakthrough mirrors others we’ve seen in recent years, where the advent of modern cell phone technology and integrated sensors has allowed for simple, relatively cheap medical devices to mimic the effects of complex lab equipment that costs thousands of dollars.

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