In the News: New Technology for Faster HIV Diagnosis

Some of the most groundbreaking technological advances in one field are often accidental applications from another field of study. This may be the case of graphene, which may be used to provide precise, accurate, same-day HIV test results.

What Is Graphene?

Graphene is an allotrope of carbon. An allotrope is one of two or more possible atomic formations of an element or compound. In the case of carbon, it may exist as a diamond if atoms bond together in a tetrahedral lattice formation; pure carbon may also exist as graphite (the stuff used in modern pencils) when atoms bond together in sheets of a hexagonal lattice.

Graphene is a single sheet of graphite—a single two dimensional hexagonal lattice of pure carbon. Two-dimensional on an atomic scale is really small. That is why until the early 2010s, most work on graphene was theoretical.

Medical Applications for Graphene

Graphene is most commonly researched for applications in semiconductor technology, touch screen technology and other electronic devices. However, graphene can be useful in the medical field, applications that seem to be stumbled upon more than intentionally sought.

Graphene’s chemical structure allows the carbon atoms to bond with other elements on two sides (front and back). This property allows graphene to be used with other elements to create “nano-tools,” in a manner of speaking. In the case of medicine, graphene can be used to create a biosensor that detects the presence of a single antibody, enzyme or other marker of disease presence.

Because HIV is diagnosed based on the presence of a single antibody that is not produced in reaction to any other pathogen, a graphene biosensor could detect that single marker on a nano-scale, producing accurate results without any lag time between infection and incubation while viral load increases.

When Will Graphene Diagnosis Be Available?

Although HIV diagnosis using customized graphene is possible, it may be quite some time before the technology is available for clinics like UNM Truman Health Services. Nanotechnology, in part because of limitations of practical machines to create and manipulate it, is very expensive. Even with continual advances in technology, graphene-enabled HIV diagnosis is not likely to reach the point where it can be subsidized on a large scale to offer widespread testing on a low- or no-cost basis for decades.

However, as technology advances and faster, more reliable methods of rapid testing become available, UNM Truman Health Services will offer them and promote awareness of them.