Mobile Technology May Improve HIV Detection, Management

New platform would allow health care providers in developing nations to perform easy HIV testing and monitoring.

A new, inexpensive form of mobile technology may help health care workers in developing nations to better detect HIV and monitor its management, a recent study published in Nature Communications suggests.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital developed a novel mobile diagnostic tool using a cellphone and nanotechnology, which is able to detect HIV and monitor its management in resource-limited regions. The authors noted that the platform could address the significant challenge of treating HIV in developing countries, which lack the infrastructure and trained medical professionals to halt the spread of the virus.

"Early detection of HIV is critical to prevent disease progression and transmission, and it requires long-term monitoring, which can be a burden for families that have to travel to reach a clinic or hospital," senior author Hadi Shafiee, PhD, said in a press release. "This rapid and low-cost cellphone system represents a new method for detecting acute infection, which would reduce the risk of virus transmission and could also be used to detect early treatment failure."

Existing HIV monitoring methods tend to be costly and require the use of polymerase chain reaction, according to the study authors. As such, they sought to design an inexpensive, easy-to-use tool that allows HIV testing and monitoring for individuals in regions with limited resources and less access to medical care.

The platform uses nanotechnology, a microchip, a cellphone, and a 3D-printed phone attachment to detect the RNA nucleic acids of HIV virus from a single drop of blood. The amplified HIV nucleic acids are found through on-phone monitoring of the motion of DNA-engineered beads without requiring expensive equipment, according to the study authors.

The platform was found to detect HIV with 99.1% specificity and 94.6% sensitivity at a clinically relevant threshold value of 1000 virus particles/ml, with results produced within an hour, according to the study. The researchers said that the total cost of the microchip, phone attachment, and reagents was less than $5 per test.

"Health workers in developing countries could easily use these devices when they travel to perform HIV testing and monitoring,” Shafiee said in the release. “Because the test is so quick, critical decisions about the next medical step could be made right there. This would eliminate the burden of trips to the medical clinic and provide individuals with a more efficient means for managing their HIV."

Reference

Cellphone Technology Developed to Detect HIV [news release]. https://www.brighamandwomens.org/about-bwh/newsroom/research-briefs-detail?id=3188. Accessed November 13, 2018.