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Cellphone technology helps detect HIV virus

CellphoneInvestigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital have designed a portable and affordable mobile diagnostic tool, utilising a cellphone and nanotechnology, with the ability to detect HIV viruses and monitor its management in resource-limited regions.

"Early detection of HIV is critical to prevent disease progression and transmission, and it requires long-term monitoring, which can be a burden for families that have to travel to reach a clinic or hospital," said senior author Dr Hadi Shafiee, a principal investigator in the division of engineering in medicine and renal division of medicine at the Brigham. "This rapid and low-cost cellphone system represents a new method for detecting acute infection, which would reduce the risk of virus transmission and could also be used to detect early treatment failure."

Traditional virus monitoring methods for HIV are expensive, requiring the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Shafiee and his colleagues sought to design an affordable, simple tool that makes HIV testing and monitoring possible for individuals in developing countries with less access to medical care.

Utilising nanotechnology, a microchip, a cellphone and a 3D-printed phone attachment, the researchers created a platform that can detect the RNA nucleic acids of the virus from a single drop of blood. The device detects the amplified HIV nucleic acids through on-phone monitoring of the motion of DNA-engineered beads without using bulky or expensive equipment. The detection precision was evaluated for specificity and sensitivity.

Researchers found that the platform allowed the detection of HIV with 99.1% specificity and 94.6% sensitivity at a clinically relevant threshold value of 1,000 virus particles/ml, with results within one hour. Notably, the total material cost of the microchip, phone attachment and reagents was less than $5 per test.

"Health workers in developing countries could easily use these devices when they travel to perform HIV testing and monitoring. Because the test is so quick, critical decisions about the next medical step could be made right there," said Shafiee. "This would eliminate the burden of trips to the medical clinic and provide individuals with a more efficient means for managing their HIV."

"We could use this same technology as a rapid and low-cost diagnostic tool for other viruses and bacteria as well," said lead author Dr Mohamed Shehata Draz, an instructor in the division of engineering in medicine and renal division of medicine at the Brigham. "This platform could help a lot of people worldwide."

Funding for this work was provided by the National Institute of Health; Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Centre for Environmental Health; and American Board of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility through ASRMAward, and Harvard University Centre for AIDS Research.

HIV-1 infection is a major health threat in both developed and developing countries. The integration of mobile health approaches and bioengineered catalytic motors can allow the development of sensitive and portable technologies for HIV-1 management. Here, we report a platform that integrates cellphone-based optical sensing, loop-mediated isothermal DNA amplification and micromotor motion for molecular detection of HIV-1. The presence of HIV-1 RNA in a sample results in the formation of large-sized amplicons that reduce the motion of motors. The change in the motors motion can be accurately measured using a cellphone system as the biomarker for target nucleic acid detection. The presented platform allows the qualitative detection of HIV-1 (n = 54) with 99.1% specificity and 94.6% sensitivity at a clinically relevant threshold value of 1000 virus particles/ml. The cellphone system has the potential to enable the development of rapid and low-cost diagnostics for viruses and other infectious diseases.

Mohamed Shehata Draz, Kamyar Mehrabi Kochehbyoki, Anish Vasan, Dheerendranath Battalapalli, Aparna Sreeram, Manoj Kumar Kanakasabapathy, Shantanu Kallakuri, Athe Tsibris, Daniel R Kuritzkes, Hadi Shafiee

[link url=""]Brigham and Women’s Hospital material[/link]
[link url=""]Nature Communications abstract[/link]

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