The smartphone accessory that can test for HIV in 15 minutes

Researchers from Colombia University have developed a mobile accessory that could detect serious diseases such as HIV in just 15 minutes.

The attachment is a finger-prick device that analyses the user’s blood sample to test for STDs. It can currently identify three different disease markers, one for HIV and two for syphilis.

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The device is priced at $34, which means it could potentially have huge implications for developing countries where expensive medical equipment is hard to come by, with typical disease analysis equipment costing as much as $18,450. In particular, the product’s developers have stressed the accuracy of the device, stressing that it provides “full-laboratory quality” tests.

The mobile accessory has already been trialled by health care workers in Rwanda in order to prevent the transmission of STDs from mother to child. The device, which takes the form of a dongle small enough to be held in one hand, has low energy consumption and can be powered by a “one-push” vacuum pump, meaning it can be used in areas that do not have constant access to electricity.

"Our dongle presents new capabilities for a broad range of users, from health care providers to consumers," Professor Sia said, leader of the research team behind the device. "By increasing detection of syphilis infections, we might be able to reduce deaths by 10-fold. And for large-scale screening where the dongle's high sensitivity with few false negatives is critical, we might be able to scale up HIV testing at the community level with immediate antiretroviral therapy that could nearly stop HIV transmissions and approach elimination of this devastating disease."

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While the device is currently only able to test for two diseases, the research team already have plans to expand its use and are currently looking to bring it to market in developing countries.