A breakthrough new low-cost HIV monitoring test could soon be available after scientists at Melbourne’s Burnet Institute announced last week they have developed a device that will assist in the control and management of the virus.

Still in the prototype phase, the CD4 rapid test device is targeted mainly at developing nations due to its portablity and low cost, however, scientists say there could be potential for use in remote Australian areas.

The monitor operates like a pregnancy test, taking a finger prick of blood to test CD4 T-cell levels.

The patient can be tested within 30 minutes to determine if antiretroviral therapy is needed, without waiting for symptoms to present before treatment.

Normally CD4 T-cell tests occur with the use of complex, expensive laboratory equipment. In contrast, the disposable device units cost around $2 each and could be a breakthrough for developing nations as tests can be done by both doctors and trained field officers.

Monitoring levels of CD4 T-cells is crucial in the management of HIV, and healthcare workers rely on counts when deciding when HIV positive patients should begin antiretroviral therapy.

The prototype was developed by Burnet scientists in collaboration with Rush University Medical Centre, Chicago and Duke University, North Carolina and will undergo further study before it becomes operational.

The Burnet Institute was awarded a grant by The CD4 Initiative (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) for the development of a low cost, rapid CD4 T-cell test, specifically designed for use in remote settings.

Burnet Institute director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb said he was proud to announce the CD4 rapid test.

The CD4 test, created specifically for use in the field is an excellent example of… combining innovative medical research with practical public health action, he said.

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