A USB stick that can test HIV levels in under 30 minutes

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Scientists at Imperial College of London have teamed with UK biotech company DNA Electronics to develop a USB stick-based HIV test capable of sophisticated detection in a fraction of the time of a standard test.

The computer plug-in just needs a single drop of blood to go to work, measuring the levels of HIV-1, changing the acidity and transmitting the results as an electrical signal that can be sent to a computer or mobile device. The whole process occurs in less half an hour to complete (with most tests averaging around 21 minutes), rather than the multiple day-long wait and lab requirements of other test.

The test in its current form looks to be most useful for patients who already know they have the virus, rather than serving as first-time detection, a function already fulfilled by a number of drug store kits. Since the test is capable of detecting the level of the virus in the blood, rather than relying on the presence antibodies, it could be valuable to patients on retroviral drugs, detecting whether the medication is doing its intended job and keeping HIV levels down, or whether the virus has developed a resistance to the drugs. 

The presence of such technology could allow patients to monitor HIV levels at home with the disposable device in much the same way diabetics do with blood sugar. It could also prove valuable to those in remote locations who don’t have immediate access to medical care.