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Researchers at the University of Columbia have developed a dongle that works with any smartphone that tests for HIV & Syphilis – what’s more it only costs $34.

The research team, led by Samuel K. Sia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, have developed the low-cost dongle that can transform any smartphone (be those iPhones or Android devices) into a fully fledged HIV and Syphilis testing device.

The dongle, which doesn’t need a battery to operate, uses only a single drop of blood and takes just 15 minutes to deliver the results. According to the paper the researchers published in Science Translational Medicine, the dongle performs enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to detect HIV antibodies, treponemal-specific antibodies for syphilis, and non-treponemal antibodies for active syphilis infection.

Traditional large format ELISA machines tend to cost around $18,000 where as these dongles only cost $34 a piece to manufacture. The dongle gets whatever little processing power it needs from the smartphone, tablet or computer and simply plugs in via the headphone jack.

The testing method pretty straight forward: First you prick a finger and put a drop of blood on the device’s plastic collector. After that, you start the smartphone app and press a button on the dongle that releases the reagents needed for the test. Your results will appear on the app 15 minutes later. (see video below for a demonstration)

A recent pilot testing in Rwanda saw it used on 96 patients, mostly from prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission clinics and voluntary test centers. Unfortunately, it incorrectly identified some patients as infected when they weren’t, but its creators are working to improve its accuracy before doing a bigger trial run.

(Image credit: Samiksha Nayak for Columbia Engineering)

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