Smartphone accessory for rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases (HIV and syphilis) at point of care

team of researchers, led by Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical
engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a low-cost smartphone
accessory that can perform a point-of-care test that simultaneously detects
three infectious disease markers from a finger prick of blood in just 15
minutes. The device replicates, for the first time, all mechanical, optical,
and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test. Specifically, it performs
an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) without requiring any stored
energy: all necessary power is drawn from the smartphone. It performs a
triplexed immunoassay not currently available in a single test format: HIV
antibody, treponemal-specific antibody for syphilis, and non-treponemal
antibody for active syphilis infection.

dongles performed a point-of-care HIV and syphilis test in Rwanda from finger
prick whole blood in 15 minutes, operated by health care workers trained on a
software app. (Credit: Samiksha Nayak, Columbia Engineering)

innovative accessory or dongle, a small device that easily connects to a
smartphone or computer, was recently piloted by health care workers in Rwanda
who tested whole blood obtained via a finger prick from 96 patients who were
enrolling into prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission clinics or voluntary
counseling and testing centers. The work is published February 4 in Science
Translational Medicine. Sia collaborated with researchers from Columbia’s
Mailman School of Public Health; the Institute of HIV Disease Prevention and
Control, Rwanda Biomedical Center; Department of Pathology and Cell Biology,
Columbia University Medical Center; Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention—Laboratory Reference and Research Branch, Atlanta; and OPKO

work shows that a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a
smartphone accessory,” says Sia. “Coupling microfluidics with recent
advances in consumer electronics can make certain lab-based diagnostics
accessible to almost any population with access to smartphones. This kind of
capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the

dongle presents new capabilities for a broad range of users, from health care
providers to consumers,” Sia adds. “By increasing detection of
syphilis infections, we might be able to reduce deaths by 10-fold. And for
large-scale screening where the dongle’s high sensitivity with few false
negatives is critical, we might be able to scale up HIV testing at the
community level with immediate antiretroviral therapy that could nearly stop
HIV transmissions and approach elimination of this devastating disease. We are
really excited about the next steps in bringing this product to the market in
developing countries,” he continues. “And we are equally excited
about exploring how this technology can benefit patients and consumers back


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