A smartphone app and hardware to diagnose sexually transmitted diseases is being developed by a team lead by St George’s University of London.
The £5.7 million project aims to produce self-test devices that can interface directly with mobile phones and computers, immediately identifying sexually transmitted infections.
The Medical Research Council and the UK Clinical Research Collaboration have awarded a £4 million grant to the group in an effort to improve sexual health.
Several universities including Brunel, Warwick and Queen Mark, along with the Health Protection Agency, are onboard with the eSTI project (electronic self-testing instruments for STis).
The team is being lead by Dr Tariq Sadiq, senior lecturer and consultant physician in sexual health and HIV at St George’s University.
“By making diagnosis easier to access in the community, with immediate results, we aim to reduce infection rates and improve sexual health,” said Dr Sadiq.
The consortium aims to employ nanotechnology to create devices for testing multiple STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. These would be available in different settings, such as pharmacies and even vending machines, for users to add their samples and then plug into a computer or mobile phone.
Software on the phone or computer will analyse the sample, make a diagnosis and recommend a course of action. Dr Sadiq said that, potentially, eSTI2 systems could automatically make an appointment with the appropriate GP surgery or sexual health clinic, or even send a message to the nearest pharmacy where their prescription will already have been prepared.
“Currently, if you want to know if you have an infection, your sample is usually sent to a laboratory and the results come back in a few days. Imagine how much more likely you would be to get tested if you could test yourself away from a clinic and have an on-the-spot, accurate result, but still let a doctor or pharmacist know within minutes that you may need treatment.”
Dr Sadiq said the technology was “very close to becoming a reality” but added that there were issues to resolve such as data protection and improved tests for newly identified infections.
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