Portable Photonic Crystal Biosensor Detects, Quantifies HIV in Africa

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Two African researchers have combined their laser expertise to develop a device that could improve the quality of treatment and life expectancy of people living with HIV.

Sello Manoto, an African Laser Centre grant holder and CSIR Biophotonics senior researcher, and Ahmed El-Hussein, of Cairo University in Egypt, have joined together on a scientific research project that focuses on a point-of-care photonic crystal biosensor for HIV detection and viral load quantification.

Manoto said the goal of the project is to create an HIV viral load portable device that can detect and quantify HIV particles with higher sensitivity. It will also allow HIV-positive patients to monitor their viral load daily in the comfort of their own homes.

“Currently, there is no HIV viral load portable device on the market, and our aim is to create one that can be used at the point of care,” Manoto said.

A recent study by UNAIDS showed that the number of adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa who are living with HIV has increased by 71 percent. This increased level of new infections is largely related to the sociopolitical landscape of this region. Some major contributing factors include issues with keeping girls in school, prevention of gender-based violence, and greater access to sexual and reproductive health services, for example.

The researchers noted that viral load testing in low- and middle-income countries is currently lacking, with statistics showing only 23 percent of routine viral load testing needs met as of 2013. Availability is expected to increase to a modest 47 percent by 2019. In many cases, systems and clinical capacity to get viral load test results and act promptly on results are also lacking.

El-Hussein explained that currently, patients diagnosed as HIV positive are given antiretroviral drugs immediately, with the intention of decreasing the viral load. However, accessible monitoring systems to measure the effectiveness of the medication are hard to come by in low-resourced communities.

“This is one of the reasons why a device of this nature is important, not only for the patient who may endure challenges such as viral resistance, but for the doctor, too,” he said. “Part of effectively managing the virus means providing the right medication at the right time.”

While viral load testing cannot alleviate the HIV epidemic, the system has the potential to contribute to prevention as well as the ability to reduce resource needs for costly second- and third-line HIV medicines.

This project is part of the CSIR’s Biophotonics Research group work, which applies a laser-driven, lab-on-a-chip approach to develop cost-effective point-of-care diagnostic tools to reduce the burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the African continent.

Published: March 2019
Research & TechnologyeducationCairo UniversityHIV viral load quantificationlaser-based photonic crystalAfrican Laser CentreBioScan

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