Health & Med

A Smartphone Dongle Diagnoses STDs in Just Fifteen Minutes

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STDs like AIDS and syphilis are a crippling health concern in developing nations. While some sexually transmitted diseases are easily remedied when the symptoms show, others are very lethal whose early detection can help save a lot of lives.


A team of researcher from Columbia led by Associate Professor Samuel K. Sia has created a low-cost device that can diagnose sexually transmitted diseases using a smartphone extension. The device replicates all mechanical, optical, and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test and is able to simultaneously detect three infectious disease markers from a finger prick of blood.

smartphone hiv2

This point-of-care test can test for HIV antibodies, treponemal-specific antibodies for syphilis, and non-treponemal antibodies for active syphilis infections by performing an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Sia estimates the device will have a manufacturing cost of just $34, which is many times lower than the $18,450 cost of typical ELISA equipment.

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This device was piloted by healthcare workers in Rwanda who were comfortable using the dongle after just 30 minutes of training. A user-friendly interface guides the examiner through each test with step-by-step pictorial directions and timers.

Highly mobile, power efficient, and fast – taking just 15 minutes to return a diagnosis, Sia predicts that this device will “transform how health care services are delivered around the world.”

Visionaries + Movers

Samuel Sia

Photos via: Columbia Engineering

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