FAU researchers receive grant for self-administered HIV test

The $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow FAU researchers to develop a high-efficiency test.

The+College+of+Engineering+%26+Computer+Science+%28not+pictured%29+is+working+with+the+Schmidt+College+of+Medicine+%28Pictured%29+to+develop+the+at-home+rapid+HIV+test.

Eston Parker III

The College of Engineering & Computer Science (not pictured) is working with the Schmidt College of Medicine (Pictured) to develop the at-home rapid HIV test.

By Justine Kantor, Florida Atlantic University

FAU researchers received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a self-administered HIV test.

The College of Engineering & Computer Science is working with the Schmidt College of Medicine to develop the at-home rapid HIV test.

While FAU is the lead university working on the project, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia are also working toward creating the test.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a sexually transmitted disease that attacks the body’s CD4 white blood cells, which help combat infection and disease. It can also be spread through needles and transmission of bodily fluids, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Principal Investigator on the project, Dr. Waseem Asghar expressed the importance of developing a rapid self-test. 

“Currently there is no molecular HIV self-test available in the world. It’s very critical to identify new infections [as soon as possible] before people can transmit disease to other people,” he said.

Current HIV testing is only able to detect antibodies of the virus. While it is possible to detect HIV in blood samples, this type of testing is not very accessible, according to Dr. Massimo Caputi, who is in charge of live samples of HIV for the project.

“Tests that determine the presence of HIV particles in the blood currently required specialized clinical laboratories, are expensive and require several hours,” he said in an email.

courtesy of Massimo Caputi, Ph.D.

The grant will allow FAU researchers to develop a blood test that is cost-effective and time-efficient.

“We are developing a testing device which will allow the patient to insert a few drops of blood. The blood is then processed through a plastic chip constituted by multiple chambers and analyzed for the presence of HIV particles,” Caputi, in an email. “The test will take roughly 30-40 minutes. The total cost of production for the testing device is expected to be under $30 and each single testing chip can be produced for less than $3.”

If left untreated, HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is a more severe stage of the virus. 

While the current research looks promising, the development of the test could take years, according to Asghar. 

“So far, we have some preliminary results to prove that our method for HIV-testing is feasible. This project will be completed in five years. Hopefully by that time, we will have fully functional assay that can be performed at home,” Asghar said.

Justine Kantor is the News Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected], or message her on twitter @KantorJustine

This story was originally published on University Press on January 28, 2022.