In June of 1981, the first documented cases of what medical experts now know as AIDS made an appearance. More than a million people in the U.S. are living with the HIV virus responsible for the AIDS crisis. Globally, the number is around 37 million HIV cases. Since that summer in the early 80s, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 36 million people around the world.

Therapies to combat the virus have come a long way. Antiretroviral treatments are effective but lack of disease management in certain locations leave many without the lifesaving therapies. The rate of those getting care sits at around 59% despite the care being low-cost or free to most. Why? One in four people with HIV are not aware they are infected.

Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU's) College of Engineering and Computer Science, in collaboration with FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine, has received a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) for an automated HIV self-testing assay. Another $1.3 million could possibly be awarded after a review of the progress from the first phase of the project.

No current HIV test detects viral loads during beginning stage

The grant is being used to develop an affordable, disposable HIV self-test. The HIV-1 chip would detect HIV from a sample of white blood cells, would not need refrigeration and would give rapid results within a 40-minute window.

“The greatest challenge to reducing HIV in developing countries that have limited resources is the absence of self-testing assays for viral load and the lack of trained technicians as well as modern laboratory infrastructure,” said Waseem Asghar, principal investigator and an associate professor at FAU. “Currently, there is no reliable technology that can detect HIV during the early stages of the infection or measure viral rebound in antiretroviral therapy in treated patients in self-testing format.”

The new technology for this research includes a microfluidic design merged with molecular amplification. With no need for medical personnel to administer, it is appropriate for self-testing in both developed and developing countries. The microchip will be put up against 200 HIV-infected test subjects for validation.


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