Co-infection with syphilis or genital herpes can compound the spread of HIV, but these diseases are all treatable - if they are diagnosed. Many global health systems struggle to pay for costly laboratory tests, so researchers have developed a potentially inexpensive, portable diagnostic tool, ideal for remote locations without electricity.
The lab-on-a-chip prototype, mChip, can detect HIV and syphilis in only a few drops of blood from a finger prick. It is powered by a nine-volt battery and takes less than 20 minutes to provide clear-cut results. The NIH’s National Institute of Nursing Research and other funders supported the development and testing of the tool. Dr. Samuel Sia, of Columbia University, led the research. In Rwanda field studies, mChip detected HIV and syphilis with lab-standard accuracy. Test results from this device can be transmitted by cell signal or satellite to medical records databases.
The researchers plan to continue refining the new tool, for instance by finding ways to reduce its temperature sensitivity and lower its cost to enable widespread availability in developing countries. In a report in Nature Medicine, they suggest the technology could be adjusted to identify markers for other infections such as gonorrhea and Chlamydia as well, leading to treatment and lessening the global burden of sexually transmitted diseases.