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Scientists Develop New Test For HIV Using USB Stick

Scientists at Imperial College London have developed a new way to test people for the HIV virus.

The test is performed by putting a drop of blood on a USB stick which then produces a result in a matter of minutes, Reuters reported.

The test can determine whether a person is HIV positive as well as the level of virus in their body.

The test detects HIV in a drop of blood before sending an electronic signal to a computer, laptop or handheld device. On average, it takes 20 minutes to complete.

“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,” Graham Cooke, who led the research, told Reuters.

The scientists worked with U.S. company DNA Electronics.

The improvement on the old equipment used for testing could help to get treatment to patients in remote areas.

“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,” Cooke added.

Around the world, 36 million people are HIV-positive. Drugs exist to treat the virus, but they can lose their effectiveness over time as the virus becomes resistant to them. It is important for those with the disease to monitor virus levels in the blood.

The test has a 95 percent accuracy rate based on 991 blood samples.

To identify the virus level in a person's bloodstream, it is currently necessary to send samples to a laboratory in a process that can take as long as three days. In many areas of the world with high HIV rates, such as parts of Africa, this option is often not available.

“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,” Cooke told Science Daily.

Researchers are also examining whether the technology could be used to diagnose other viruses, such as hepatitis.

Sources:  Reuters via CBC, Science Daily / Photo credit: Imperial College and DNA Electronics via Science Daily

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