A pilot study held in Africa has revealed that a simple US$34 worth device that plugs into the audio jack of smartphones could nearly as effectively diagnose antibodies for HIV and syphilis as the far more costly blood diagnostic machines could. U.S. researchers said about the device on Wednesday that the mobile lab equipment, commonly called a dongle, shows effective results.
The device, costing only US$34 to make, when compared with the highly sophisticated blood diagnosis devices costing more than US$18,000, could prove to be highly effective in the many under-developed regions of Africa. In the pilot study, the device performed all the electronic, optical and mechanical functions of a typical lab-based blood test in duration of only 15 minutes. The device used power for operating form the smartphone only to which it was plugged.
The device was formulated by a team of scientists from the Columbia University of New York, led by associate professor Samuel Sia of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. For testing the device’s effectiveness in practical cases, health care workers from Rwanda used it for undertaking finger-prick blood tests on some 96 patients, including some women who were at risks of transmitting sexually transmitted diseases to their unborn children.
The team then compared the results with ELISA, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay testing and found that the results were nearly as perfect. It was found that the test had a sensitivity of nearly 92 to 100%, a measure of how often the test discovered the target antibodies, and a specificity of 79 to 1005, a measure of how often the test identified the people who were not infected by the virus.
Sia stated in a statement that the work shows that smart devices, like the one invented by his team, can also be capable of running a full immunoassay of the quality of a physical lab with sophisticated machines.
The study was backed by the Gates Foundation and several other grants. It was published on the Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.