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UK scientists develop new type of HIV test on USB stick

Scientists at Imperial College London and DNA Electronics have developed a type of HIV test on a USB stick.

The device, which uses a drop of blood to detect HIV, creates an electrical signal that can be studied by a computer, laptop or handheld device.

Designed for HIV patients to monitor their own treatment, the new test can detect the amount of virus in the bloodstream.

The new test will allow patients to regularly monitor their virus levels similar to the people with diabetes checking their blood sugar levels.

It is more useful in remote regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, which do not have much access to testing facilities.

In addition, the team is carrying out research whether the device can be used to test for other viruses such as hepatitis.

DNA Electronics, which is Imperial’s spinout company, is also using the same technology to develop a device to detect bacterial and fungal sepsis and antibiotic resistance.

Imperial College London’s Department of Faculty member and research senior author Dr Graham Cooke said: "HIV treatment has dramatically improved over the last 20 years – to the point that many diagnosed with the infection now have a normal life expectancy.

"However, monitoring viral load is crucial to the success of HIV treatment. At the moment, testing often requires costly and complex equipment that can take a couple of days to produce a result.

“We have taken the job done by this equipment, which is the size of a large photocopier, and shrunk it down to a USB chip.”

Image: The USB stick can measure how much HIV is in the bloodstream. Photo: courtesy of Imperial College London.