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Rapid, cheap HIV test finds success as first of its kind tested in the field

The first field trial for a “lab on a chip” accurately detected both HIV and syphilis among a Rwandan population, researchers reported Sunday.

Blood samples injected into the clear plastic, credit card-shaped device produced results within 20 minutes. This kind of test could offer a faster, cheaper and easier way to detect infectious diseases that afflict developing countries, according to the report published online by Nature Medicine.

“This is a big step,” said Doris Rouse, a vice president at RTI International in North Carolina, who specializes in global health technologies and was not involved with the study. “What’s especially exciting about this device is that it’s rugged, easy to use and doesn’t require a lot of infrastructure or training,” she added.

Cheap HIV tests that provide results within 30 minutes have been available for years, but many rely on a decades-old method called lateral flow. A sample of blood or oral fluid is placed on a strip of paper, and like a pregnancy test, a colored band appears and can be interpreted to indicate infection.

Few lateral flow tests, however, have proven reliable across multiple settings and types of infection. Many people in developing countries instead rely on expensive and time-consuming laboratory analysis, “but this [new] test can be done outside the lab with all the same advantages and sensitivity [for detection,]” said Rosanna Peeling, a diagnostics researcher at the London School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine, who was not part of the study.

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