BioE grad student studies infant HIV testing in Kenya

Bioengineering graduate student Rachel Gerver of Professor Amy Herr’s lab has just returned from a three-week needs-finding expedition on infant HIV diagnosis in Kenya.

student in Kenya

Graduate student Rachel Gerver on Rusinga Island in Kenya, after visiting the Tom Mboya clinic in July 2014.

HIV diagnosis in infants is difficult, due to the presence of maternal antibodies. In the US we use an expensive HIV viral RNA test, which requires costly laboratory equipment and high levels of expertise. Infant HIV is typically diagnosed in low resource settings through dried blood shipped to a central lab, but this can waste time during which antiretroviral therapy could have been started.

The Herr lab has developed a number of microfluidic tools for rapid analysis of protein content in patient samples. By applying the Herr Lab technology to an integrated point of care device, the researchers will automate separation of the HIV viral proteins from antibodies in a small patient sample.

Gerver spent three weeks in Kenya this summer to gain a better understanding of the workflows and resources in the care of infants with HIV-positive mothers by shadowing health care workers in clinical sites, holding focus groups with key stakeholders including lab managers and technicians, and conducting semi-structured interviews with key institutional leaders.

Through an understanding of local conditions and customs combined with technical development in the Herr Lab, they hope to develop an easy-to-use device that could eventually be licensed for inexpensive, rapid, and accurate diagnosis of HIV in infants in low resource settings.

Collaborators on the project include Professor Craig Cohen, MD MPH Ob/Gyn at UCSF and an expert in HIV and infants, and the Family AIDS Care and Education Services (FACES) in Kenya. This trip was funded through a grant from the Blum Center’s Development Impact Lab.