While much attention is (rightfully) given to the dilemmas surrounding the provision of AIDS drugs in the developing world, medication is not the only expense incurred in the fight against HIV. Accurate diagnosis and monitoring of AIDS can be costly, and is often only available in large urban hospitals. As individuals can have varying reactions to treatment, accurate measurement of T cells is critical for determining whether an intervention is successful. The cost of technologies to perform those counts -- called "flow cytometry" -- can be a barrier to effective treatment.
The biotech company Guava Technologies, in cooperation with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has developed a new T cell enumeration tool aimed specifically at "resource-limited nations." The "EasyCD4" system is described by Guava as being "20 times more affordable" than standard flow cytometry systems. The entire system is built to reduce costs -- in training, in materials, and in infrastructure:
Performance of the Guava assays is quite simple, with even novice users learning to use the EasyCD4 method in just a day or two. Testing requires only 10 microliters of whole blood per patient, making the method suitable for use in pediatric as well as adult patients. The Guava EasyCD4 assay also requires far less reagent per sample than other testing methods, dramatically lowering the overall costs of performing the assay. Moreover, the Guava EasyCD4 assay does not require nearly the amount of dedicated laboratory infrastructure. The system also does not require large amounts of buffered water as sheath fluid that are required by conventional flow cytometers. The elimination of the use of sheath fluid also results in less bio-hazardous waste and significantly further reduces the running costs of using the system.
While we focus on developing vaccinations against and a cure for HIV-AIDS, it's important to remember that treatment is a bigger issue than drugs. The EasyCD4 system looks to be a useful new tool, allowing smaller clinics to provide early diagnosis and ongoing monitoring away from urban centers. This, in turn, has the potential to improve survival rates, as earlier diagnosis means earlier treatment -- and lower cost diagnosis can mean more resources for medication.