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On-the-spot AIDS test: S. Africans to get revolutionary smartphone gadget

Published time: September 03, 2012 13:06
Edited time: September 03, 2012 17:06
AFP Photo / Rodger Bosch

AFP Photo / Rodger Bosch

A smartphone application developed by South Korean and South African scientists will allow users to diagnose AIDS infections. Once complete, the app will be released in rural South Africa, where current tests are both remote and expensive.

­The new gadget, dubbed the ‘Smartscope,’ consists of a small one-millimeter (0.04-inch) microscope and light that clip over a smartphone's camera, and the accompanying software, AFP reported.

A standard chip containing a blood sample slides into the gadget, underneath the microscope. The phone app then photographs the sample and analyses the blood for a T-cell count, ascertaining the overall health of the subject’s immune system.

"Our idea was to obtain images and analyze images on this smartphone using applications," Jung Kyung Kim, a professor in biomedical engineering at South Korea’s Kookmin University said.

A T-cell (or CD4 cell) count is used to diagnose the immune system’s overall health. T-cells are the white blood cells that help the body fight disease and infection. The HIV virus infects T-cells in the body and uses them to replicate itself. A person carrying the virus will therefore have a lower T-cell count than an uninfected individual, as well as a weakened immune system.

Eventually, if a person’s T-cell count drops below a certain threshold, they are diagnosed with AIDS. 

Kim hopes to begin clinical trials as early as next year.

A similar device being developed in the US would also conduct tests, and then send the results to a remote computer for analysis. The Smartscope app would be able to perform that function independently, recalling technology out of ‘Star Trek.’

"In community health mobile technology is not a gimmick. It becomes an essential part of access," Professor Jannie Hugo said. Hugo is the head of the family medicine department at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and is associated with the study.

The app is being released in South Africa and Swaziland, which have been hit hard by the disease – almost six million South Africans are HIV-positive, and a quarter of adults in Swaziland are infected.