Researchers in the UK have developed a new HIV test that, while being touted as ten times more sensitive than current testing methods, relies on a liquid that changes color to give either a positive or negative result, potentially revolutionizing HIV testing, especially in poorer and developing nations.
The new method, devised by researchers at Imperial College London, utilizes a biosensor so sensitive it can detect just a few molecules that indicate the presence of HIV.
The biosensor analyzes serum, that is derived from blood sample taken from the patient, in a see-through container. If the result is positive for the marker, known as PSA, the solution inside the container turns blue. It negative, it turns red. This difference can be seen by the naked eye and requires no specialist equipment.
Moreover, early trials show the test could be used to detect other maladies like some cancers, for example prostate cancer.
Prof Molly Stevens is quoted by the BBC as saying the test could even improve early detection rates:
This method should be used when the presence of a target molecule at ultra-low concentration could improve the diagnosis of disease.
For example, it is important to detect some molecules at ultra-low concentrations to test cancer recurrence after tumour removal.
It can also help with diagnosing HIV-infected patients whose viral load is too low to be detected with current methods.
The method costs much less than other so-called gold standard detection methods, with researchers estimating the new testing method could cut costs almost tenfold.
Due to this, deployment and retesting could be much more effective in poorer countries where the HIV fight is often retarded by economic restraints. Retesting is very important in fighting HIV so as to ensure a negative status is not a false result.
“It is vital that patients get periodically tested in order to assess the success of retroviral therapies and check for new cases of infection,” Stevens is quoted as saying in a news release. “Unfortunately, the existing gold standard detection methods can be too expensive to be implemented in parts of the world where resources are scarce.”
The HIV testing method now requires further tests to confirm its accuracy and figure out exactly how useful it can be.
The next step for researchers is to secure funding from global health organizations, whereby they will be able to move from lab testing to manufacturing and distribution.
However, despite this early stage, the promise of this new testing method has been greeted positively by health campaigners.
Michael Brady, medical director at Terrence Higgins Trust, told IBTimes UK: “This is potentially a significant step forward for HIV testing. Too many people with HIV are being diagnosed late, after a point when they should have already started treatment.
“This not only puts their own health at serious risk, but means they are more likely to unwittingly pass the virus on to others. Anything that helps us to detect the virus earlier and improves the simplicity and speed of getting a result is to be welcomed.”
The number of people living with HIV has risen from around 8 million in 1990 to 34 million by the end of 2010. While in some nations AIDS rates are increasing, overall figures have stabilized and the annual number of new HIV infections has steadily declined. Still, in order to properly combat the epidemic, low-cost early detection is vital so as to further drive down transmission numbers and, at last, turn the tide on HIV for good.
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