HIV: Fast Mobile Testing via Cloud


Photo: Finger-pricked whole blood

The new mobile device tests for HIV from fingerpricked whole blood and uploads patient data into the cloud; © Ronge

An innovative lab-on-a-chip checks a patient's HIV status anywhere in the world with just a finger prick. It also synchronizes the results automatically and instantaneously with central health-care records.

Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, describes a major advance towards providing people in remote areas of the world with laboratory-quality diagnostic services traditionally available only in centralized health care settings. "We have built a handheld mobile device that can perform laboratory-quality HIV testing, and do it in just 15 minutes and on finger-pricked whole blood," Sia says. "And, unlike current HIV rapid tests, our device can pick up positive samples normally missed by lateral flow tests, and automatically synchronize the test results with patient health records across the globe using both the cell phone and satellite networks."

Sia developed a pioneering strategy for an integrated microfluidic-based diagnostic device—the mChip—that can perform complex laboratory assays, and do so with such simplicity that these tests can easily be carried out anywhere, including in resource-limited settings, at a very low cost.

"There are a set of core functions that such a mobile device has to deliver," he says. "These include fluid pumping, optical detection, and real-time synchronization of diagnostic results with patient records in the cloud. We have been able to engineer all these functions on a handheld mobile device and all powered by a battery." This new technology, which combines cell phone and satellite communication technologies with fluid miniaturization techniques for performing all essential ELISA functions, could lead to diagnosis and treatment for HIV-infected people who, because they cannot get to centralized health care centers, do not get tested or treated.

"This is an important step forward for us towards making a real impact on patients," says medical doctor Jessica Justman, associate clinical professor of medicine in epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. "And with the real-time data upload, policymakers and epidemiologists can also monitor disease prevalence across geographical regions more quickly and effectively."

Sia and his team assessed the device's ability to perform HIV testing and then synchronized results in real time with the patients' electronic health records. They successfully tested over 200 serum, plasma, and whole blood samples, collected in Rwanda. The mobile device also successfully transmitted all whole-blood test results from a Rwandan clinic to a medical records database stored on the cloud. The device produced results in agreement with a leading ELISA test, including detection of weakly positive samples that were missed by existing rapid tests. The device operated autonomously with minimal user input, produced each result in 15 minutes (compared to 3 hours with the benchtop ELISA), and consumed as little power as a mobile phone.; Source: Columbia University