Canadian Researchers' Device May Improve HIV Tracking

Canadian researchers are hoping to bring a small, cheap blood cell analyzer to HIV patients living in the developing world. The on-the-spot HIV blood testing device can monitor whether the disease has progressed, and it can be used outside the lab by a trained nurse, according to the team.

"There are tons of stories out there with people that walk half a day to a clinic to get blood [drawn], and that sample gets taken by bicycle or by truck to a bigger urban center," said team leader Rakesh Nayyar of the University of Toronto's University Health Network. "And then they've got hundreds of tests, so they don't get to the tests for days. You don't get results [because] to disseminate the data takes a long time."

Most machines currently performing flow cytometry are larger than a microwave and smaller than a dishwasher, said James Dou, a University of Toronto student who also is working on the device with his research adviser, Stewart Aitchison.

The first prototype is about the size of a loaf of bread. However, the device is being downsized to a little larger than a smartphone, with similar capabilities, such as a camera, GPS and wireless communication. The team also is working on database linkage to enable doctors to keep track of patients in remote areas, Dou said.

The cost per device will be about $5,000-$10,000 (US $4,800-$9,600), and each test will cost only a few dollars to process. By March, the team hopes to have up to 100 units ready for field testing in Malawi and Thailand.