TECH

Super-Cheap Gadget Tests For HIV Using Your Smartphone

02/10/2015 04:04 pm ET | Updated Feb 11, 2015

Testing for HIV just got a whole lot easier.

A team led by Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, has devised a smartphone accessory that can test for HIV and syphilis in 15 minutes. The dongle plugs into the phone's headphone jack and uses an app to produce the test results.

Scanning blood from a finger prick, Sia's device looks for three infectious disease markers: HIV antibodies, which typical tests look for; and treponemal-specific and non-treponemal antibodies for syphilis, which basically distinguish between active and inactive syphilis infections.

A look at the STD-testing smartphone device in action. (Source)

The dongle works with any smartphone and provides a laboratory-quality test. It also costs a remarkably low $34 to manufacture. According to a Columbia press release, that's far below the thousands of dollars needed for the lab equipment that would normally be needed to run such tests. It's even pretty close to the $39.99 price tag on certain over-the-counter HIV tests.

Health care workers in Rwanda recently tested Sia's device on 96 patients. Nearly every single patient said they'd recommend the device.

“Our work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory,” Sia said in a written statement. “Coupling microfluidics with recent advances in consumer electronics can make certain lab-based diagnostics accessible to almost any population with access to smartphones. This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the world.”

The only snag: It's not ready for mass production -- yet.

“We are really excited about the next steps in bringing this product to the market in developing countries,” said Sia. “And we are equally excited about exploring how this technology can benefit patients and consumers back home.”

Planned Parenthood told The Huffington Post that 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, and nearly a sixth don't even know they're infected.

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