The Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV), a virus that attacks healthy cells in the body and renders the immune system weak has remained a challenge in the world of medicine since it was first discovered. Statistics have shown that there are increasing rates of the virus in developing countries.
The discovery of the HIV virus in 1983 left the medical world desperately searching for a cure – one they still haven’t really found. The virus was first referred to as HTLV-III/LAV (human T-cell lymphotropic virus-type III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus.
The HIV virus weakens the immune system by targeting a specific immune system cell, this cell is the CD4 helper T cell or simply, as the helper cell, and the count level of this cell now serves as a diagnostic tool for detecting HIV. The gradual destruction of the helper T cells by the HIV virus leaves the body susceptible to many infections. The victim starts to die slowly whilst the disease condition HIV, progresses into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) especially if the condition is not treated.
At this stage, the body’s CD4 count is below 200 cells/mm3. The virus is spread through a number of ways that includes blood transfusion, sexual intercourse, breast milk etc. The good news, however, is that the disease can be managed effectively with the use of anti-retro-viral drugs, especially if there’s an early diagnosis and this treatment hinders the progression of HIV into AIDS.
Monitoring methods for the HIV virus are costly and they are done with the use of the polymerase chain reaction PCR.
To make this monitoring process easier, more affordable, investigators from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital designed and built an affordable and portable mobile diagnostic tool. This diagnostic tool was made with a cellphone and nanotechnology and it would lead to earlier diagnosis of HIV, it can also detect if a treatment is successful or not.
Nanotechnology is the science of working with atoms and molecules in a bid to build microscopic devices. This science of manufacturing machines (robots, for example) from atoms and molecules produce devices that are nanometers in size. The inventors of this mobile diagnostic tool employed the art of nanotechnology, the microchip, the cell phone, and a 3D-printed phone attachment to create a system that would detect ribonucleic acids RNA of the virus from just a single drop of blood.
The device is highly specific and sensitive as regards its use as a diagnostic tool. Researchers found out that the device allowed for the detection of the HIV virus with 99.1 percent specificity and 94.6 percent sensitivity. Another benefit of this mobile diagnostic tool is that it’s time effective. Using this device, your test results will be out within one hour.
Senior author Hadi Shafiee, PhD, a principal investigator in the division of Medicine at Brigham, spoke richly on this diagnostic tool stating its importance as, “This rapid and low-cost cellphone system represents a new method for detecting acute infection, which would reduce the risk of virus transmission and could be used to detect early treatment failure.”
Health workers in developing countries could easily use this device for performing HIV tests as well as monitoring the diseases and treatment outcome. The device provides the users’ doctors with a more efficient means of managing their disease, with the device in place, it would also reduce the number of trips the patients would make to the clinic.
“We could use this same technology as rapid and low-cost diagnostic tool for other viruses and bacteria as well.”, according to the lead author Mohamed Shehata Draz, Ph.D., an instructor in the division of Engineering in medicine and Renal Division of Medicine at Brigham. This mobile diagnostic tool not only will it be useful for HIV but in the long run, it would be useful in the diagnosis of other diseases.
As with most discoveries, there’s hope that this discovery will pave the way to a new wave of other research topics to be explored. And having these discoveries, man would have an upper hand in the war between man and diseases. This mobile diagnostic tool would also reduce the death rate of those affected by the virus in the developing countries.
Alex Barker is a full-time Pharmacist, media company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He is also is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps busy professionals build successful side businesses.