Nigeria: Researcher Builds Handheld Device for Detecting HIV Virus

Jan. 28, 2013

Punch– A professor of Biological Engineering, Samuel Sia, records progress on his study on accelerated HIV testing, writes AKEEM LASISI

About three weeks after a claim by a Nigerian academic, Prof. Isaiah Ibe,  to have discovered a drug that can cure HIV/AIDS generated controversies, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, Samuel Sia, has developed a way to check a patient’s HIV status anywhere in the world with just a finger prick. The device is also said to be capable of synchronising the results “automatically and instantaneously with central health-care records.”

Early in the month, Ibe, who is the dean of Basic Medical Sciences at the University of Benin Benin, had given a progress report on a research in which he is working on a curative for the dreaded disease. The manner of the declaration was, however, criticised even by the university, as the result has yet to go through clinical tests.

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While Ibeh is believed to have gone back to the lab, working on the project, Sia’s device is said to have been field-tested in Rwanda by a collaborative team from the Sia lab and ICAP at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

In  the study published online January 18, 2013, in Clinical Chemistry, Sia describes a major advance towards providing people in remote areas of the world with what he calls  laboratory-quality diagnostic services traditionally available only in centralized health care settings.

The report indicates that the new study builds upon Sia’s earlier scientific concepts and incorporates a number of new engineering elements that make the test automated to run with data communication over both cell phone and satellite networks. The research was funded by a $2-million Saving Lives at Birth Transition Grant (United States Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Government of Norway, Grand Challenges Canada, and the World Bank).

He is quoted as saying, “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 synchronisation of diagnostic results with patient records in the cloud. We’ve been able to engineer all these functions on a handheld mobile device and all powered by a battery.”

It further notes that working with some other organisations and the Rwandan Ministry of Health, Sia and his team assessed the device’s ability to perform HIV testing and then synchronised results in real time with the patients’ electronic health records.

“They successfully tested over 200 serum, plasma, and whole blood samples, all collected in Rwanda,” the report adds. “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 that were missed by existing rapid tests”

Sia’s next step will be to implement an antenatal care panel for diagnosing HIV and sexually transmitted diseases for pregnant women in Rwanda.

“He is also exploring the use of this technology for improving personal health for consumers in the United States,” the report says.