A revolutionary advance in the realm of HIV testing: Scientists in the UK have come up with a USB stick that can test a single drop of blood for HIV and have results in less than 30 minutes. As Gizmodo reports, such a test could be useful in remote regions around the globe where it's difficult to get a traditional HIV test, but it could also help people who already have HIV. Anti-retroviral drugs work by lowering the levels of HIV in the blood to nearly zero, but sometimes the virus becomes resistant to the drugs and levels start going up. The USB stick test would allow HIV patients to constantly monitor the levels of the virus in their blood, similar to the way diabetes patients monitor their blood sugar levels. Current HIV tests take as long as three days to produce results.
The USB stick technology, still in its early stages, detects the virus via a change in acidity levels; results are sent to a computer or a mobile app. Recent testing of 991 blood samples resulted in 95% accurate results in an average of just under 21 minutes per result. The researchers note in their paper that their test could be useful in sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the 39 million people infected with with HIV-1 live. "The timely detection of viremia in HIV-infected patients receiving antiviral treatment is key to ensuring effective therapy and preventing the emergence of drug resistance," they write. "In high HIV burden settings, the cost and complexity of diagnostics limit their availability." As Engadget notes, the tests could also alert doctors if patients go off their drugs. Researchers are also looking into whether the test could be used to detect other viruses in the blood. (Read more HIV stories.)