Technology » Personal Tech

Homotech: $1 Chip to Test for HIV in 15 Minutes, Fits in Your Wallet

by Shaun Knittel
Contributor
Thursday Aug 11, 2011
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For most of us, getting tested for STDs, including HIV, means a trip to the doctor’s office or local clinic. Vials of blood, and days, weeks (in some cases even months), later you’re left anxiously awaiting the results. A new tiny invention called mChip, a clear credit-card looking device that fits easily in your wallet, aims to change all of that.

A team from Columbia University in New York has come up with the mChip. The cheap and portable piece of equipment gives HIV and syphilis test results in just a few minutes with a rate of almost 100 percent accuracy, according to several researchers.

The mChip works with only a tiny finger-prick amount of blood. One drop of blood goes onto the device’s microfluidics-based optical chip. Fifteen minutes pass and then - voila! -- the device will confirm whether or not you have an STD.

What could be better about it? Well, for one, it’s cheap; dollar-store cheap. The developers have given the "lab in a chip" a projected cost of just $1, U.S., making it much more cost effective than the current blood tests that are available and ideal for use in developing nations.

As part of the study, a prototype of the mChip was used to test hundreds of people in Rwanda, a tiny, isolated African nation where people usually have to wait weeks for test results. Results showed that the device had a 95 percent rate of accuracy for diagnosing HIV and 76 percent accuracy for diagnosing syphilis. Similar tests on more than 100 archived specimens yielded equally reliable results, as did further trials based on samples from female sex workers known to be infected with both HIV and syphilis.

Experts say the mChip could knock down three barriers to effective delivery of health care into the world’s poorest regions: difficult access, high costs and long delays for results.

In short, mChip, may be a game-changer in disease detection. Samuel Sia, one of the lead mChip developers, hopes to use the method to increase testing of STDs in pregnant woman across Africa.

"The idea is to make a large class of diagnostic tests accessible to patients in any setting in the world, rather than forcing them to go to a clinic to draw blood," he said. "Diagnosis of infectious diseases is very important in the developing world. When you’re in villages, you may have the drugs for many STDs, but you don’t know who to give treatments to, so the challenge really comes to diagnostics."

Currently, barely a quarter of pregnant women in many countries are tested for HIV, a figure which provides scant hoping of reaching the United Nations goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission by 2015, according to the 2010 UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic. In Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, only 9 and 6 percent, respectively, of pregnant women currently receive HIV testing, according to the report.

In the U.S., with HIV/AIDS infections occurring at an alarming rate among young gay men, mChip could help to rid the brain of any viable excuse to not get tested among these men. Although there is a 4 to 6 percent chance of getting a false positive (similar to traditional lab tests), it would be nice to see the mChip carried at the local drug store, porn shop, and convenience stores. The practically foolproof device doesn’t require any human interpretation and the test can be done in private by oneself.

As technology advances, so too, does science. In this case, mChip makes a strong case for knowing your status and changes the way in which you receive your results.

Currently, however, there is no projected date of release.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.

This article is part of our "HomoTech" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

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