In a landmark move for medicinal technology, scientists at Imperial College of London have teamed with UK biotech company DNA Electronics to develop a USB stick-based HIV test. It is equipped with the ability to detect the virus in a fraction of the time of a standard test.

Its functioning is deceptively simple: The computer plug-in USB just needs a single drop of blood to get started, measuring the levels of HIV-1, changing the acidity and transmitting the results as an electrical signal that can be sent to a computer or mobile device. The whole process takes up less half an hour to complete (with most tests averaging around 21 minutes), rather than the multiple day-long wait and lab requirements of other tests. Researchers are also hoping that the technology can be used to test for hepatitis and other viruses. DNA Electronics is already using the setup to develop a testing method for sepsis and antibiotic resistance.

In its current form, the test seems like it would be most useful for patients who are already aware that they have the virus, rather than serving as first-time detection, a function already fulfilled by a number of drug store kits. Since the test is capable of detecting the level of the virus in the blood, rather than relying on the presence antibodies, it could be valuable to patients on retroviral drugs, detecting whether the medication is doing its intended job and keeping HIV levels down, or whether the virus has developed a resistance to the drugs. During the latest round of trials, the setup tested nearly 1,000 samples with 95 percent accuracy.

The presence of such technology is monumental in increasing the accessibility of HIV-related healthcare – it could allow patients to monitor HIV levels at home with the USB stick in much the same way diabetics do with blood sugar. It could also prove valuable to those in remote locations who don’t have immediate access to medical care, making it a useful, significant development coming out of the union of technology and medicine. 

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