Anyone who is worried they might have picked up a sexually transmitted infection will soon be able find out... using their mobile phone.
Scientists at the University of London are developing a self-testing device that will instantly diagnose a host of common infections such as chlamydia.
Users will urinate on the device like with a pregnancy test and this will then be plugged into a mobile or computer.
Software will analyse the sample, make a diagnosis and recommend a course of action.
The £5.7million project, called eSTI² (electronic self-testing instruments for STIs), will use nanotechnology - advanced technology on a sub-microscopic scale. Researchers said it could revolutionise the treatment of sexual health.
Project leader Dr Tariq Sadiq, said: ‘By making diagnosis easier to access in the community, with immediate results, we aim to reduce infection rates and improve sexual health.’
Dr Sadiq said that, potentially, 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. It could also give options for informing a partner.
He envisaged them being available in pharmacies and perhaps even vending machines.
Dr Sadiq said: ‘Mobile phones have changed the way we live and communicate, and our team of experts firmly believe that they open up a unique avenue for new ways to diagnose and control STIs.
‘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.
‘This kind of system could also speed up the process of communicating infection trends in the population to public health doctors, allowing for quicker responses to outbreaks of an STI.’
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 project will bring together researchers with backgrounds in fields as diverse as telecommunications, microengineering, microbiology, and public health, as well as NHS technology adoption teams.
‘The required technology is very close to becoming a reality,’ said Dr Sadiq.
‘But we need to address before we can use devices in the community such as confidentiality and data protection.
‘It will also be vital to have tests that can be easily adapted to detect newly identified STIs, as all the causes of sexually transmitted diseases have still not been discovered.’
The Medical Research Council and the UK Clinical Research Collaboration have provided £4million of the funding for the ambitious project.
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