Engineers have taken an ordinary smartphone and made it a whole lot smarter.
The diagnostic device – the engineers call it a “dongle” – was tested on 96 patients who were being treated in three community health centers in Kigali, Rwanda. After getting their test results, 97% of the patients said they would recommend it to others, according to a report published this week in Science Translational Medicine.
A rapid, reliable test that can be performed anywhere would be a huge lifesaver in places like Rwanda, the engineers wrote. Previous research has shown that if a test like this correctly identifies 70% to 80% of people who are infected and 70% to 80% of those who are not, it would cut the number of deaths by a factor of 10 compared with a traditional test that is 100% accurate.
To make a device that fit this bill, the engineering team had to solve several problems. One of the challenges was to make the dongle simple enough for anyone to use after half an hour of training.
How did it do? Very well, according to the report:
* The device correctly diagnosed all the patients who were HIV-positive and 87% of those who were HIV-negative. Twelve people got false-positive test results.
* In interviews, 57% of the patients praised the test for offering quick results, 44% appreciated that it tested for multiple diseases at once, and 95% were happy to offer just a pinprick of blood instead of having to endure a typical blood draw from a vein.
All of this performance came at an extremely reasonable price, according to the study. The engineers estimated that their dongle would cost $34 to manufacture. The traditional lab equipment used to diagnose HIV and syphilis costs $18,450, they wrote.