Cheap Chip Could Revolutionize Detection for HIV

Researchers at Columbia University have developed a chip that could revolutionize disease diagnosis in third world countries. The scientists have created a plastic chip that can diagnose HIV and syphilis within 15 minutes.

The “mChip,” a piece of plastic, about the size of a credit card and costing just two to three dollars can analyze the blood sample from a pin prick with the help of an equally cheap optical sensor, and detect viruses and diseases that usually take weeks to conclude in third world countries.

While HIV testing in developed counties such as the United States takes only a few days or even hours, in developing counties, such as many in Africa, testing administered at clinics in remote regions must be sent to national labs for analysis and can take weeks for results to return.

Often people don’t bother to return to clinics that may also be far out of their way, for their results.

Results of the mChip research, conducted on a population in a region of Rwanda, were published this week in Nature Medicine detailed that the chip accurately detected 100 percent of HIV positive cases. Just one false positive result occurred out of 70 samples. The syphilis tests yielded 94 percent accuracy, with four out of 67 samples reading false positives.

“We’ve taken what’s long been a great theoretical concept and shown that it can be done in the field,” said Samuel Sia, a biomedical engineer at Columbia University who co-authored the research.

He also considered the test successful for being administered in a difficult environment with little infrastructure.

Future development could see the mChip used to detect several STDs such as hepatitis B and C, herpes, gonorrhea and Chlamydia all at once. Sia hopes that the chip will most aid pregnant women in Rwanda and similar countries.

However, the next challenge for the mChip is acquiring the funding in order to take it from a testing phase to practical use.

Last week, Sia entered the chip into a technology competition for maternal and child health, which will distribute $14 to winning projects. The mChip is one of 18 nominees for the award, which will be announced at the end 2011.

Without proper funding, the mChip project will be set back by at least two to three years.

In the meantime, an mChip that can diagnose prostate cancer has recently been approved for use in Europe.

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