At the amazing rate of the evolution of technology, we could only expect this invention to appear, sooner or later. Engineers from the Columbia University have created an accessory connected to your smartphone which allows you to test yourself for sexually transmitted diseases with just a finger-prick.
All around the world, traditional tests for such diseases take even days to return results from the laboratory. However, the new device can detect syphilis or HIV in just 15 minutes. First country where the engineers tested their contraption was Rwanda, because of the high rates of STDs being transmitted from mother to child, but the researchers are positive it might ease access and facilitate diagnoses in any other areas battling diseases around the world.
The inventors are sure this kind of technology would be welcomed in the United States as well, even though it is one of the most developed countries, with numerous hospitals in each city. The reason is the recent trend of providing medical assistance outside hospitals, and this device allows people to catch diseases in a more private and convenient environment.
Chief author of the invention, Samuel K. Sia, who is a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia, presented his vision of a proactive and preventative medicine, catching diseases with the help of technology. Therefore, the smartphone accessory’s capacity is to replicate the lab-based diagnostics for the HIV and for the two markers of syphilis, all in one single-test form. All its power is drawn from the smartphone battery, which is one feature increasing its availability in Rwanda, a country where electricity is not always at hand.
The inventors focused on testing syphilis and HIV in particular because the World Health Organization (WHO) has stressed them as priorities in finding a quick result. They are also the two serious health conditions which have the ability of passing from mother to child in the womb. WHO’s dreadful statistics show that each year, approximately 1.5 million pregnant women around the globe are infected with active syphilis. Left untreated, as is the case of half of these women, STDs can lead to stillbirth, miscarriages and other harmful conditions.
The list of the diseases which can be diagnosed by the smartphone accessory is conditioned by the seriousness and the level of treatability. That’s why HIV and syphilis were the first, and Sia explained that other STDs and other non-STDs are on the list.
Sia and his team of researchers set out a trial for the accessory in Rwanda, with almost 100 pregnant women participating in it. The details of the testing were published on Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. All the women were enlisted after finding out about the project by word of mouth, and they received consent from the local clinics. The team received a lot of support from different partners, such as the local Ministry of Health, the Rwanda Biomedical Center, and the Institute of HIV Disease and Prevention and Control.
The headquarters of the trial were health care facilities in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and the researchers targeted the most affected areas of the country, where HIV and syphilis rates are the highest. In an email interview with the chief of the local Ministry of Health, Sabin Nsanzimana, he praised the usefulness of the device, appreciating its settings: quick, easy to use, and cheap. He is positive this technology will be able to save lives.
The results of testing the device showed how accurate it was: 92 to 100 percent for sensitivity, in tests that were true-positive, and 79 to 100 percent for specificity, for tests that are true-negative. Out of the total number of participants, 97 percent reported complete satisfaction, naming the easy procedure and the fast results as two important features in such cases.
However, Sia is still worried about patient privacy and information security, even though the patient satisfaction rates were so high. The device is the size of a USB, attaching to the smartphone through the audio jack, but after testing the patient, a memory chip needs to be plugged into the accessory, which is where the results are actually stored. Sia believes that accurate interpretation of the results and keeping them secure is top priority.
In spite of these legitimate concerns, Sia is positive that, taking the right precautionary measures will add to the pros of having such accessible blood tests at hand. Another pro is the fact that the accessory is just $34, compared to the price of an ELISA equipment, which is more than $18,000.
The team is sure of the potential of testing all sorts of other diseases, such as looking for cancer and diabetic markers, or even measuring hormone levels. They look forward to being part of the trend which revolutionizes the way we look at the health care system, transforming it for the better.
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