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New £16m initiative uses mobile technologies to track and treat infectious disease

A major UK based initiative using mobile phones and the internet to test and track serious infectious diseases was announced last week. The new EPSRC-funded Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC), led by UCL (University College London), will develop early-warning sensor systems that allow doctors to diagnose and track diseases much earlier than previously possible.

Welcoming the centre, David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: “New British technologies are transforming healthcare and saving lives, for example, in future, our smart phones will tell us when we are ill, controlling the spread of infectious diseases. As healthcare challenges become more complex, our world-class scientists are finding the next generation solutions.”

According to a statement, the IRC will pioneer low cost, easy to use diagnostic tests based on advances in nanotechnology for use in GP surgeries, pharmacies, elderly care homes, developing countries and in the UK.

The mobile tests aim to identify diseases with high sensitivity and specificity and give results within minutes from just a pin-prick of blood or a swab. Rapidly transmitting results into secure healthcare systems will alert doctors to potentially serious outbreaks with geographically linked information.

The UCL team are already developing a smart-phone-connected prototype test for HIV with industry partners OJ-Bio.

The IRC will also track reported symptoms of infection by searching internet sources including media reports, search engine queries and social networking sites to identify outbreaks before people attend clinics or from parts of the world that lack the resources for traditional public health surveillance.

Dr Rachel McKendry, from the London Centre for Nanotechnology UCL, who will lead the new centre, said, ‘A new generation of diagnostic test and tracking systems could save millions of people from deadly diseases such as new strains of influenza, HIV and MRSA.’

‘The revolution in mobile communication, nanotechnology, genomics, and ‘big data’ analysis offers tremendous opportunities to actively manage outbreaks and ultimately prevent infectious diseases. Widening access to tests in community settings will empower patients to gain faster access to treatment, reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics and protect the wider public.’

The new centre will bring multidisciplinary expertise in biomarker discovery that requires minimal sample processing steps, nano-enabled sensors, temperature-stable biomimetic capture coatings, nanoparticles, microelectronics, microfluidics, wireless networks, data mining, data security and health economics.

The multidisciplinary team will work with NHS clinicians from UCL Partners and Newcastle NHS Trusts, NIHR Biomedical Research Centres, Public Health England, patient groups and the public.

The centre also benefits from links to more than 100 countries in Africa, Asia and South America via the LSHTM International Diagnostics Centre led by Professor Rosanna Peeling.

Academic partners include Imperial College, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Newcastle University and industry support will come from OJ-Bio, Microsoft, Cambridge Life Sciences, Mologic, O2 Health, Zurich Instruments, XFAB and Cepheid.

More information is available on the UCL website

 
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