A credit card-sized plastic chip created by researchers at Columbia University could radically increase the availability of diagnostic tests able to identify HIV and syphillis in the developing world. The device, known as the mChip, costs only $1 to produce, and requires a simple pinprick of blood to accurately determine whether or not an individual has HIV.

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The mChip project was spearheaded by Samuel Sia, an assistant professor at Columbia University, in conjunction with Claros Diagnostics, and is an improved application of the incredible potential of microfluidics. Since the mChip only needs a few drops of blood, the device eliminates the need of skilled technicians for the retrieval of the blood, as well as for the analysis. Microfluidics have been utilized in other HIV-blood tests, like an ipod-sized blood test, and the Bloodchip created by SIMBAS, but the mChip is notable for its combination of size, speed, accuracy, and above all, cost.

With such a low production cost, the mChip seems particularly well-suited to aid in the global effort to combat the spread of HIV in Africa. And best of all, it is extremely accurate. The mChip was used extensively in studies in Rwanda, and was found to detect 100% of cases of HIV and syphillis, with the 4%-6% margin of error that is consistent with large-scale labs, according to a report that Sia published in Nature Medicine.

In many rural parts of Africa, it is very difficult for individuals to get to a hospital to have their blood tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The mChip brings the lab out to the rural villages. As reported in Fast Company, Sia stated, “When you’re in these villages, you may have the drugs for many STDs, but you don’t know who to give treatments to, so the challenge really comes down to diagnostics.”

The next hurdle to cross is in the treatment of these diseases, but the mChip is certainly a step in the right direction.

Via Fast Company

Images © Sam Sia