Handheld HIV test trialled in remote parts of Africa

A new handheld device for diagnosing infectious diseases, including HIV, at patients’ bedsides has been successfully tested in remote parts of Africa.

Researchers at Columbia University in the US developed the lab-on-a-chip technology as a cheap and fast testing method for areas that have very few resources.

The mChip can produce a diagnosis within 15 minutes from just a finger prick of blood tested with a disposable credit-card-sized device.

‘The idea is to make a large class of diagnostic tests accessible to patients in any setting in the world, rather than forcing them to go to a clinic to draw blood and then wait days for their results,’ said research leader Samuel Sia of Columbia Engineering.

Sia ‘s team has tested the mChip in Rwanda on hundreds of patients over the last four years in partnership with Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and three local non-government organisations in Rwanda.

The device contains a microchip formed through injection moulding that holds miniature forms of test tubes and chemicals used to carry out the testing. The cost of the chip is about $1 (£0.6) and the entire instrument about $100.

Sia hopes that the mChip will help pregnant women in Rwanda who may have HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases but can’t be diagnosed with any certainty because they live too far away from a clinic or hospital with a lab.

‘Diagnosis of infectious diseases is very important in the developing world,’ said Sia. ‘When you’re in these villages, you may have the drugs for many STDs, but you don’t know who to give treatments to, so the challenge really comes down to diagnostics.’

Sia’s lab at Columbia Engineering developed the mChip in collaboration with Claros Diagnostics, a venture-capital-backed firm that Sia co-founded in 2004.

A version of the mChip that tests for prostate cancer has also been developed by Claros Diagnostics and was approved in 2010 for use in Europe.