Scientists have developed a USB stick that could help people with HIV measure their viral load.

The groundbreaking innovation comes from the Division of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College.



Patients being treated for HIV will usually see their viral load reduce thanks to anti-retroviral drugs, but undergo regular testing to measure the amount of virus in the bloodstream – to monitor check the medication is working and monitor drug-resistance.

Current tests to detect the amount of virus take at least three days, often longer, and involves sending a blood sample to a laboratory. The new tech could help people living with HIV in areas with poor infrastructure, by allowing them to keep track of their viral loads.

The study, published in journal Scientific Reports, created an innovative new approach to testing, allowing viral load testing from a small device integrated into a USB stick.

Dr Graham Cooke, senior author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial explained: “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.”

Dr Cooke added that this technology, although in the early stages, could allow patients to regularly monitor their virus levels in much the same way that people with diabetes check their blood sugar levels.

The technology could be particularly powerful in remote regions in sub-Saharan Africa, which may not have easy access to testing facilities. Finding out quickly if a patient, particularly a baby, is infected with the virus is crucial to their long term health and survival.

Professor Chris Toumazou, DNAe’s Founder, Executive Chairman and Regius Professor at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial added: “This is a great example of how this new analysis technology has the potential to transform how patients with HIV are treated by providing a fast, accurate and portable solution.

“At DNAe we are already applying this highly adaptable technology to address significant global threats to health, where treatment is time-critical and needs to be right first time.”




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