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Don’t throw away your old DVDs! They could help diagnose HIV

DVDWith the increasing prevalence of digital media, whether streaming video, downloadable movies, or audio files, analog media like DVDs or CDs seem to have little to no use in our modern world. In reality, however, that’s not quite the case. Although they may have passed their sell-by date when it comes to their original purpose, scientists are looking into alternative uses for these shiny discs that once offered so many hours of entertainment. And in this particular case, their second life could end up serving a much greater purpose.

A research team at the KTH Royal Institute for Technology in Sweden, led by Aman Russom, has been looking into ways to repurpose DVD technology to test blood cells, DNA, RNA, and proteins at a lower cost and in a more accessible manner. The “lab on DVD” that Russom’s team is developing works by loading blood samples onto modified DVDs, which would then be placed into a similarly modified DVD reader. Instead of the traditional DVD laser, the reader would be retrofitted to transmit light through the disc, with a sensor behind the disc recording the results and transmitting them to an attached computer.

According to Russom, this technology could have “a transformative effect” in less technologically advanced regions such as his native Africa. At this stage, Russom’s team are looking to partner with companies that could help take the tech mainstream, through funding (the project is currently part-funded by the European Commission) and mass manufacture. “In the first year, we are going to make the technology robust. In the second we want to apply it to a clinical sample, and then we will look at ways to outsource the technology to other partners,” he told the Guardian.

If nothing else, the success of the DVD format in the past has proven the ease of mass production needed for this project to be manufactured as a medical device. Researchers believe that the DVD lab could be produced for as little as $200 per unit, roughly a hundredth of the current cost of equipment necessary to test for HIV infection.

One of the ways in which Russom hopes to find corporate partners is by making the case that this project helps more than just the patients whose blood will be tested. “We’re trying to find a new use for a dying technology,” he explained. “The optics are superb; they have been fine-tuned over the past 30 years.” Could this be the only way forward for DVD technology to exist in the digital age? If so, they have have all our old AOL discs.

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