press release
Published: 26 September 2017

Scientists develop a 10-second HIV test linked to mobile phones

By David Ferguson

Researchers from a group of UK universities have developed a 10-second test for HIV, based on mobile phone technology.

HIV blood test carried out on hand
Photo credit: Getty Images

The University of Surrey, working with colleagues at University College London, the Africa Health research Institute (South Africa), OJ-Bio (Newcastle), QV (holdings (Netherlands) and the Japan Radio Co Ltd, have developed a mobile test using technology found in smartphones, and it could provide doctors and carers with a virtually instantaneous way of diagnosing someone with HIV. The test uses just a single drop of blood from a patient to produce a positive test within 10 seconds.

The test, announced in Scientific Reports, uses surface acoustic wave (SAW) biochips, which are based on microelectronic components found in smartphones. The disposable quartz biochips are extremely fast because they do not require complex labelling, amplification or wash steps, and a pocket-sized control box reads out the SAW signal and displays results electronically.

Early detection of HIV is vital to help contain potential outbreaks, but existing tests require complex analysis equipment and long waiting times for results.

The team first optimized SAW biochips and capture coatings to detect model HIV antibodies and recombinant antigens (anti-p24 and p24 respectively) exploiting small llama antibody technology. This was then used to test real patient samples, using differential measurements, in order to achieve high specificity and sensitivity within seconds.

The research opens up the potential of consumer electronics to cut lengthy test waiting times, giving patients on the spot access to potentially life-saving treatment and supporting more timely public health interventions to prevent disease outbreaks.

Professor Vince Emery, Senior Vice-President (Global Strategy and Engagement) and Professor of Translational Virology at the University of Surrey, said: “This research shows that we can find the perfect marriage between traditional medical science and cutting edge mobile technology to make a real difference to diagnosing serious viruses within seconds. The development is a great example of how multidisciplinary research, supported through the NIHR and the EPSRC interdisciplinary research centre, i-sense, can lead to technological breakthroughs that impact on global health.

“We have developed this 10-second test for HIV using existing smartphone technology, but it could in theory be used for a range of viruses, such as Zika or Ebola, potentially meaning that we can identify serious outbreaks before they become full epidemics, especially if we can link it with the evolving 5G technologies in the future.”

Early diagnosis and access to antiretroviral treatment increases life-expectancy by 10 years, reduces infant mortality by 76% and in pregnant women can almost completely prevent transmission to their baby.

Professor of Biomedical Nanotechnology at UCL and Director of i-sense, Professor Rachel McKendry, said: “This is an exciting breakthrough that lays the foundations for future clinical studies and product development.

"If successful, this platform technology could revolutionalise rapid HIV diagnosis and deliver major health and economic benefit to millions of people worldwide.”

CEO of OJ-Bio, Dr Dale Athey, explains, “Current point-of-care tests for HIV based on lateral flow technology are still relatively slow, with most between 10-20 minutes to produce results, which exceeds the approximate nine minutes for a doctor’s appointment in the UK.”

“The 10-second result time achieved here makes this approach a potential game changer.”

This work was funded by the National Institute for Health Research i4i programme and EPSRC IRC in Early Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases.


  • The University of Surrey launched the Innovation for Health building on its Stag Hill campus in February 2017. By 2030 healthcare delivery will have incorporated the concepts of cross-disciplinary working and the ability to rapidly assimilate and analyse large quantities of data. With the use of remote monitoring approaches this will transform the ways in which health is improved and sustained, and how diseases are managed.
  • The creation of the Innovation for Health Learning Laboratory, and associated academic activities, allows us to produce the next generation of graduates who are able to work across traditional boundaries of health and engineering sciences and contribute to delivering future health care solutions. The Innovation for Health Learning Laboratory is a key part of delivering this vision, where engineering students and health and bioscience students can learn each other’s language.
  • The AIDS pandemic ranks among the most devastating infectious diseases in human history, infecting more than 78 million people and resulting in 39 million deaths, with a tremendous burden of illness in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • A significant proportion of those infected remain unaware of their infection – estimates range from 17% in UK to 55% in sub-Saharan Africa. Late diagnosis is associated with a 10-fold increased risk of death and increased risk of unknowingly transmitting the infection. According to the US Centre for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), every case of HIV that is prevented saves $380,000 in lifetime treatment costs28.
  • Authors of the paper were: Valérian Turbé, Eleanor R. Gray, Victoria E. Lawson, Eleni Nastouli, Jennifer C. Brookes, Robin A. Weiss, Deenan Pillay, Vincent C. Emery, C. Theo Verrips, Hiromi Yatsuda, Dale Athey & Rachel A. McKendry.

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