FOR THOSE WITH HIV IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES, A LAB-ON-A-CHIP THAT COMES TO THEM

STEWART AITCHISON, professor & JAMES DOU, PhD student, Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

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THE PROBLEM

To maintain good health and avoid infection, the body relies on CD4 cells, a collection of white blood cells that do battle with bacteria. These immune system warriors, however, are destroyed by HIV. For that reason, it’s vital to keep a close eye on the body’s number of CD4 cells and when the total falls, provide HIV-positive people with antiretroviral drugs. But what if those patients live in a developing country, far from a health clinic and the medical equipment necessary to monitor their condition?

THE INNOVATION

Stewart Aitchison and PhD student James Dou developed a portable, hand-held device that can analyze a patient’s CD4 count outside of the laboratory and within 15 minutes. This “lab-on-a-chip” is simple to use, requires little maintenance, can tolerate a range of temperatures in the field, and is aimed at improving the accessibility, efficiency and affordability of the blood-testing process.

THE APPROACH

In order to bring their research to market, Aitchison and Dou—along with biotechnology expert Rakesh Nayyar—founded ChipCare Corporation. The start-up company, which has a working prototype of its signature product, is currently seeking seed funding to expand its operations.

THE IMPACT

According to the World Health Organization, more than 30 million people worldwide are living with HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular has been hit hard by the disease. So the ChipCare technology stands to make a significant difference in
the treatment of HIV in that region. Rural areas of Canada could also benefit from the mobile technology.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The researchers intend to modify the “lab-on-a-chip” technology to detect even more illnesses, such as malaria, tuberculosis and sepsis.

“In rural settings here and in developing countries, people don’t have access to centralized testing. People in sub-Saharan Africa might walk a long way for a test, but then they also have to come back two weeks later for results. And with HIV it’s important to monitor the blood regularly in order to customize treatment. As it stands, people in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have easy access to health care.”
– Stewart Aitchison

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