Researchers have developed a non-expensive smartphone application, named dongle, which can detect both HIV and syphilis. This can be done with just a single finger prick of blood in 15 minutes.
Samuel Sia, professor at Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science, led the project and stated that it is able to complete point-of-care tests that simultaneously distinguishes between three infectious disease markers. This is the first time a mobile application has been developed that can test through, optical, mechanical, and electronic functions just like a lab-based blood sample test.
The research team stated the device performs an enzyme-linked immunosorbet assay, ELISA for short, that does not need stored energy to perform. The power that is necessary to do the tests is stored in the battery of the smartphone. The system performs a triplexed immunoassay that is not available in a singular test. The phone acts as a multiple-usage arbiter for testing for syphilis infections and HIV.
Dongle, the application, connects to a computer or smartphone with ease. It was first tested in Rwanda by health care workers and doctors that used the system to test blood received from a finger prick given by 96 patients who enrolled in voluntary counseling and testing centers used for the prevention of disease transmission. Sia stated that their work on the smartphone application shows that an entire laboratory-based immunoassay test can be run without going into a medical center.
Sia explained that by conglomerating advances in mobile technology with microfluidics allows the entire population to have access to the tests. Furthermore, he said that this technology has the capability to transform the health care industry and its services carried out around the globe. As well, his team wanted to develop a device that would be lightweight and smaller in size. Having an application to run lab-worthy blood diagnostics with a user-friendly read-out was imperative to Sia and his research team.
Sia estimated that the dongle application will be manufactured for the price of 34 US dollars. This is far lower than the 18,450 US dollars that is required to develop, build, and use a laboratory-based ELISA machine. Moreover, they have made the ELISA system much more efficient. Their innovations include eliminating the electrical pump by creating a “one-push vacuum” system that the potential user activates in a negative-pressure compartment to sequence the source of substances that are pre-loaded on the application. Secondly, they created dongle to be used in areas without electricity or access to other power sources. The smartphone application is sturdy, long-lasting, needs no additional maintenance, and involves very little user training.
The research team eliminated the need for an internal power source by utilizing the headphone jack to transmit power and for data transfer. Since headphone jacks are standard-issue on all smartphones, the dongle application can be attached to all compatible smartphone devices.
The smartphone application allows the ELISA test to be much less frightening and much less painful than drawing blood for a test. Sia explained that since the device is so user-friendly, low-cost, and is able to be run in areas without access to electricity, those in less-affluent countries will be able to access life-changing health care tests where they could not before.
By: Alex Lemieux
Picture: Johncatral – Flickr License