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A Super Cheap, Super Fast HIV Test Built From A Simple DVD Player

Scientists have hacked together a new way to look for the virus that doesn’t involve expensive lab equipment—just simple household electronics.

Testing for HIV has a positive impact on infection rates, partly because men who know they are infected are less likely to have sex and unknowingly spread the disease. A large recent study by researchers at U.C. San Francisco found that same-day lab results, combined with post-test counseling, reduced new infections by 14% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Anything, therefore, that encourages more testing—say, like a super-cheap device—is a good thing. And that could well be what Aman Russom has on his hands: a device that costs as little as $200 compared to the standard $30,000. What is more, the machine uses something that might otherwise end up on history’s scrapheap: a DVD player.

The "Lab on DVD" turns a normal player into a laser-scanning microscope that visualizes cells. Russom has added an extra photodiode to the drive, which shines light through semi-transparent disks holding blood, or other samples, in minute grooves. The machine creates 2-D images that technicians can analyze using a basic computer.

As well as being much cheaper than a standard machine, Russom, a lecturer at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, in Stockholm, claims the device also requires less training to operate than a standard HIV testing machine.

"The low cost of the technology makes it suitable as a diagnostic and analytical tool in clinical practice close to the patient," he says. "And because it delivers extremely fast analysis, the patient does not need to go home and wait for a response. They can get it right on the first visit to a doctor."

That should not only be better for patients, but the wider community as well. Russom says the machine should be ready in two to three years, and could be used not only to detect for HIV, but to monitor cell counts of diagnosed patients, and develop "appropriate antiviral therapy."