It’s been two years since Miami’s Summer of Zika, when everyone was freaked out about mosquitoes and your friends all canceled their trips to Florida. But although the public frenzy about the virus has since died down, dozens of Floridians are still being diagnosed with Zika. According to the Department of Health, at least 59 travel-related cases have been reported across the state so far this year.
Unfortunately, testing for Zika remains a somewhat lengthy process. Although very reliable, the commonly used urine test can detect the virus only two weeks after the onset of symptoms, and getting the results can take up to three weeks.
That could soon change. Earlier this month, researchers at Florida International University were granted a patent for a device that can deliver results faster than any other test on the market.
“The platform has a lot of potential,” says Madhavan Nair, who developed the system with Ajeet Kaushik. “It’s an exciting proposition.”
Here’s how it works: Instead of sending a sample to the lab, health workers insert a sensing chip into the sample and plug the chip into a compatible medical device. A digital reading showing whether the person is positive for Zika is available in less than 40 minutes.
Because the method doesn’t require laboratory testing, the researchers say their device could easily be used in remote places without medical centers.
“This is a device that can be taken by health workers to the site of [Zika-prone] locations,” Nair says. “That data can be shared remotely with the clinics.”
With a different chip, the patented method could also be used to detect other viruses, such as dengue or West Nile.
“The same technology can be used for any type of infection,” Kaushik says. “This is a platform technology.”
As of now, the researchers are seeking a manufacturer that can develop the device for mass consumption. Eventually, the goal is to have an app that could quickly spit out test results.
“The ultimate aim is personalized health care,” Kaushik says. “Anyone can use this.”
Jessica Lipscomb is a staff writer for Miami New Times and an enthusiastic Florida Woman. Born and raised in Orlando, she has been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.
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