Mobile phone technology to detect STIs

A consortium of academic and industrial partners are involved in a new £5.7m project to develop devices that can plug directly into mobile phones and computers to identify sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The Medical Research Council and the UK Clinical Research Collaboration has given a £4m grant to the consortium to improve sexual health through the use of mobile phone technology.

The consortium, which includes Queen Mary, University of London, St George’s, UCL, Brunel University, Warwick University, the Health Protection Agency and industrial partners, made up the remaining £1.7m.

The project – called eSTI² (electronic self-testing instruments for STIs) – is being led by Dr Tariq Sadiq at St George’s, University of London, while Queen Mary’s contribution is being co-ordinated by Dr Claudia Estcourt from the Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The consortium will create devices for testing multiple STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, similar to pregnancy test kits. Software on a phone or a computer will then be used to analyse the sample, make a diagnosis and recommend a course of action.

Potentially, such eSTI² systems could automatically make an appointment with the appropriate GP surgery or sexual health clinic, or send a message to the nearest pharmacy then use GPS to direct the user there, where their prescription will already have been prepared.

The proposal was put together as a direct response to the epidemic of STIs in the UK – which saw a rise of 36 per cent from 2000 to 2009 – and the reluctance for people to go to their doctor to find out if they are infected.

The consortium will ensure the devices are accurate, investigate the most effective and safest ways to use eSTI² systems in the community and seek to apply the technology to developing countries, where access to healthcare is more limited.