Cheap Smartphone Accessory Gives HIV Test Results in 15 Minutes

A team of biomedical engineers from Columbia University has come up with a rather fascinating diagnostic utility for smartphones. With the help of a handy and lightweight accessory, users will now be able to detect the presence of both HIV and Syphilis via a single test.

Currently, the most reliable means of diagnosing HIV is a laboratory test called an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which detects the amount of antibodies in a blood sample as well as the extent to which  protein is bound by them. Using the smartphone HIV test, the team of engineers are able to provide an objective read-out much like an ELISA assay.

The dongle is said to have a manufacturing cost of approximately $34, which is much lower than the $18,450 that the ELISA equipment usually costs. Given its portable nature and mechanical design, it can prove very useful in remote or mobile clinics and specially in a country like Pakistan.

What does the dongle contain?

The dongle contains:

  • a one-time-use cassette
  • a mechanically operated pump
  • chemical reagents
  • LED-based optics

How does it work?

The phone’s battery powers the dongle via its audio jack, which is also the means for data transmission between the two devices.

To facilitate its use in remote areas that may lack electricity, the pump has been designed to be hand-activated via a mechanical button. Once blood is drawn into the device via the pump , a series of chemicals reagents are moved onto the cassette, which in turn react with markers for HIV and syphilis.

This results in the blood altering the color and optical depth of the solution, allowing the LED-based optics to read through changes and send the resultant data to the phone’s app, which subsequently presents it in the form of meaningful information.

The entire process, which takes no more than 15 minutes, requires minimal user guidance and no additional maintenance.