A team of researchers at Columbia University Engineering, lead by associate Dr. Samuel K. Sia, have just invented a palm-sized, low-cost smartphone accessory that can detect and diagnose a person with HIV and syphilis in just 15 minutes.
"Consumers and patients will have a choice to monitor biomarker levels when and where they want, instead of having to rely on their insurers to approve the tests," Sia told BuzzFeed News.
The accessory, called a "dongle," connects to the headphone jack in any iPhone, Android, iPod touch, or any other electronic device with a headphone jack and app capabilities. It is small enough to be held in one hand, and costs about $34 to make. Typical HIV testing equipment costs around $18,450.
So far, the device has so far only been used to test for HIV and syphilis in developing countries, but Sia hopes it will be used by smartphone owners in America as well.
When plugged in, the dongle activates an app which gives simple step-by-step directions with pictures:
1. The patient's ID number is entered
2. The patient's finger is pricked and the blood sample is deposited into a small cassette which is then loaded into the dongle
3. A small pump on the dongle is pressed
4. The sample is processed by the dongle
Fifteen minutes later the results appear on the smartphone screen.
The device has already been field tested by health care workers on 96 patients in Rwanda, 97% of whom recommended the device due to its fast turn-around time and relative painlessness, compared to the multiple blood tests usually necessary for standard screening.
"By increasing detection of syphilis infections, we might be able to reduce deaths by 10-fold," Sia told the Columbia Engineering online news service.
By "scaling up" HIV testing and responding to positive diagnoses with immediate treatment, we "could nearly stop HIV transmissions and approach elimination of this devastating disease," he added.