This Mobile Chlamydia Test Could Change How We Test For STIs

A new smartphone-based test for chlamydia that delivers results in just 30 minutes could change the way we test for sexually transmitted diseases.

The prototype, called mobiLab, has yet to undergo clinical trials. Developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the all-in-one handheld device features a 6-inch DNA analysis unit that tests disposable genital swab cartridges. Test results are then delivered to a smartphone app hooked up to the device, allowing a diagnosis to be confirmed at the point of care rather than a separate lab.

Aside from speed and convenience, the mobiLab could significantly lower the cost of chlamydia testing if it approved. Current testing options cost between $50 and $200 without insurance, the Baltimore Sun reported. In contrast, researchers estimate that the mobiLab test, which is $200 to make, will cost practitioners approximately $2 per cartridge.

Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection in the United States, affecting more than 1.4 million Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease, which can cause infertility in women if left untreated, is known as a “silent infection” because most people who are infected don’t have visible symptoms.

“People don’t go in to get tested for it,” Patrick Chaulk, assistant commissioner of Baltimore Health Department’s Bureau of HIV/STD Services, told the Sun. “People have the opportunity to spread it to others without knowing it, and that’s why a device like this would be quite helpful.”

The researchers hope the device could eventually be used at home, similar to a pregnancy test, which would follow a new trend in healthcare. In April, a British company launched an at-home HIV test, and in June, Planned Parenthood announced that it was rolling out a pilot program for at-home STI testing. For the latter, patients order testing kits on their smartphones and send urine samples back through the mail for results.

The mobiLab test is currently female-focused and only works for vaginal swabs, but researchers plan on expanding the test to men and other sexually transmitted diseases in the future.

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