November 9, 2010
Testing for certain STDs might someday be as easy as putting saliva or urine on a small device similar to a pregnancy testing kit, plugging it into a computer or cell phone, and receiving diagnostic information within minutes. The UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and other partners have contributed £4 million (US $6.4 million) toward developing such rapid-test technology through the UK Clinical Research Collaboration.
"Your mobile phone can be your mobile doctor," said project leader Dr. Tariq Sadiq, a senior lecturer and consultant in sexual health and HIV at St. George's, University of London. "It diagnoses whether you've got one of a range of [STDs] and where to go next to get treatment."
The microlaboratory is made possible by nanotechnology and microfluidics. Developers expect the devices could be sold for £1 (US $1.60) or less in pharmacies, supermarkets, and vending machines in nightclubs. Since most new STD diagnoses are in young adults, many of whom are reluctant to visit a doctor or clinic, the tech-savvy approach is fitting. Mobile phone companies are already on board.
"Britain is one of the worst in western Europe for teenage pregnancy and [STDs]," Sadiq said. "That there's a major embarrassment factor here, especially among young people, makes the situation worse."
"This is important, particularly for women, as [STDs] can lead to future painful pelvic inflammatory disease and even infertility, both of which could be avoided with testing and appropriate treatment," said Dr. Marion Henderson of MRC's public health sciences unit.