English researchers have developed a groundbreaking new HIV test with manifold benefits that include results visible to the naked eye, a reduced “window period” after infection and a dramatically lowered cost that could greatly benefit developing nations. According to a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, the research team from Imperial College London has developed a prototype test that, in contrast to the standard ELISA nucleic acid-based test, analyzes blood serum for an HIV biomarker known as p24. If the biomarker is present, a reaction within a vial of solution causes nanoparticles to draw together into irregular clusters and develop a visible blue color. Negative results are visibly red when these nanoparticles instead separate into spherical shapes. Because the test is able to detect even the most minute particles of p24, it promises to significantly reduce the window period—the period directly after infection when tests might fail to detect antibodies and thus give false negative results. Furthermore, the new test is one-tenth the cost. To that end, the researchers intend to team with nonprofit global health groups to put the test into wide use in low-income countries.

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