The device will give people a way to monitor the virus for themselves, reducing the need to visit a doctor as often. It will act as an early warning system to tell patients to seek medical help if the virus is resisting anti-retroviral treatments. It could also be of real benefit to doctors in developing countries who urgently need rapid and affordable ways to diagnose and monitor their patients.
The research will bring biomedical engineers, physicists, chemists, virologists and clinicians together to create the device, which will work in a similar way to how diabetics check their insulin levels - where a hand-held machine analyses a finger prick of blood.
The device will use tiny mechanical sensors, called nano-cantilever arrays, to measure HIV and other protein markers that can indicate a rise in the level of the virus and the body's response to it.
Dr Rachel McKendry, Reader in Biomedical Nanoscience at the LCN, explains: "The nano-cantilever arrays are each coated with substances that stick to the HIV and other proteins, which are markers associated with disease progression. Accommodating these markers causes the highly sensitive sensors to bend like a diving board and this bend indicates the level of virus in the body. We have used nano-cantilever arrays to investigate drug resistance in super bugs, and are excited by the opportunity to extend this approach to detecting HIV markers."
The device will display messages on an integral screen, giving patients access to clear, immediate advice. For example, they could be told that their condition remains stable if levels of virus do not change, or they could be told to make an appointment to see their doctor if the virus begins to flare up.
Robin Weiss, Professor of Viral Oncology at the University College London, adds: "One of the principal advantages of the proposed device is its capacity to monitor viral and immunological markers on a single chip without the need for time consuming analysis that requires specialist laboratories."
Dr Yeong-Ah Soh, lead investigator at Imperial and lecturer in Materials Science, who is responsible for engineering the nano-cantilever arrays, says: "This project combines technology from semiconductor processing with modern biology to produce a unique piece of kit for tracking how HIV develops in individual patients, and helping them to keep a close eye on their own health."
The project will be carried out over the next three years, with the promise of additional funding.
COMPAMED.de; Source: University College London