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US researchers tout HIV test-on-a-chip

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A group of US researchers has developed an HIV test-on-a-chip that will mean doctors working in the field will be able to diagnose the disease in a matter of minutes.

The chip could make it far easier for doctors working in remote regions of sub-Saharan Africa to diagnose patients with HIV and begin to treat them. It could be deployed to that end as early as next year, Wired.com reports.

The sensor system was developed by scientists at the University of Texas and Harvard Medical School, led by Harvard's Dr. Bruce Walker.

The chip is etched with a series of impressions - miniature test tubes - that catch the blood for analysis. Each of the tubes can be thought of as a miniature reaction vessel, which in combination with the analyser, can reveal the components of the blood sample.

The doctor drops a sample of blood on to the plastic biochip and pops the whole thing into the analyser which counts CD4 cells. In test conditions, it can deliver a count in as little as ten minutes, the researchers say.

The CD4 count gives doctors an indication of how far the virus has progressed in a patient. This is vital if the doctor is to recommend appropriate treatment.

Currently, blood samples have to be sent to a lab where they can wait weeks before being processed. Even when the results come through, finding the person who gave the sample can prove tricky, so many people go without the diagnosis and treatment that they need.

Austin biotech startup LabNow has licensed the technology and says clinical trials are to begin shortly in China, Africa and parts of the US. The company adds that if the trials go well, the chip could be deployed in sub-Saharan Africa by the middle of next year. ®

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