A blood diagnostic kit that can detect infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B in just two hours wins a European Inventor Award for its developer Dr. Helen Lee. Matthew Stock reports.
In Malawi an estimated one million people are living with HIV, the virus that causes Aids. Vast distances and isolated communities make testing people extremely difficult. Haematologist Dr. Helen Lee realised that developing countries need a simple and rapid way to find out if they've been infected. More than a decade of development later: this is SAMBA, which stands for Simple amplification based assay. Put simply, it's a test that tells if a person is infected or if their treatment is working. Using a tiny drop of a patient's blood, the results are ready within two hours. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. HELEN LEE, PRESIDENT & CEO, DIAGNOSTICS FOR THE REAL WORLD, SAYING: "It's really quite simple; the patients come in and the sample is taken. And that then gets tested. Within 90 minutes you get the results. And so you can really decide whether their drug, their treatment is being effective or if they have developed resistance, whether they are infected or not infected. So really you can get a result in 90 minutes of an extremely complicated test." The results are shown like a pregnancy test - one stripe is negative, two is positive. The device is dust and moisture proof. And both it and the testing kits can withstand the African heat. The freeze-dried reagents are in cartridges that fit in the machine in one way only, meaning little training is needed. Each test costs 17 dollars, and SAMBA can be both mains and battery powered. Crucially, Lee says, it eliminates the time gap between testing and when diagnosis results are ready. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. HELEN LEE, PRESIDENT & CEO, DIAGNOSTICS FOR THE REAL WORLD, SAYING: "It's very important to me that the tests are done then and there, and the results are given to them then and there. And the appropriate treatment or counselling should take place in one trip." At her lab in Cambridge, these machine are being readied for deployment to the field. Lee's spin-off company Diagnostics for the Real World have used the tests to screen 40,000 people for HIV in rural Africa. SAMBA also won Lee the Popular Prize at the 2016 European Inventor Award organised by the European Patent Office, winning nearly two-thirds of the votes in an online poll.