Mobile STD Testing Consortium Wins $6.4 Million Grant in U.K.

U.K. researchers have received a $6.4 million grant to fund the eSTI?? mobile STD testing project, which will use mobile phones or PCs as testing devices.

STD, or STI (sexually transmitted infection), testing is about to get more mobile and private. The United Kingdom's Medical Research Council and Clinical Research Collaboration have granted a consortium $6.4 million to develop the chips and software for eSTI??, a mobile STD testing initiative.

The consortium includes industrial partners as well as Brunel University, the Health Protection Agency, Warwick University, and both Queen Mary and St. George's at the University of London.

eSTI?? will process STD tests results on a mobile phone or PC instantly using nanotechnology, or submicroscopic technology.

Patients can get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea and other STDs. The consortium plans to promote the technology in developing countries, St. George's reports.

Using eSTI??, individuals drop their blood, urine or saliva on a mobile chip, which they then insert into a mobile phone or PC. Software on the phone or PC then delivers a diagnosis, schedules a clinic appointment or sends an electronic prescription to a pharmacy.

eSTI?? could eliminate the delay of a few days to get results, and individuals will have more privacy working on their own mobile device rather than in a clinic.

Patients can still notify physicians or pharmacists of the results immediately, according to Dr. Tariq Sadiq, lead researcher on the project as well as a senior lecturer and consultant physician in sexual health and HIV at St George's.

"These systems have real potential to give individuals more control over their sexual health, reduce spread of infection, and radically change the way STIs are diagnosed and managed," Sadiq said.

STI cases in the United Kingdom rose by 36 percent from 2000 to 2009, St. George's reports.

Meanwhile, about 19 million new STD cases are diagnosed per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"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," Sadiq explained.

"Mobile phones have changed the way we live and communicate, and our team of experts firmly believes that they open up a unique avenue for new ways to diagnose and control STIs," Sadiq said.

Consumers will be able to purchase the chips in vending machines or at a local pharmacy.

"By making diagnoses easier to access in the community, with immediate results, we aim to reduce infection rates and improve sexual health," Sadiq said.

Researchers collaborating on eSTI?? will include experts in telecommunications, microengineering, microbiology and public health, according to St. George's.

Although the technology could be rolled out soon, confidentiality and data protection issues must be resolved first, Sadiq said. "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."

In another project, George Whitesides, a Harvard chemistry professor has designed technology in which patients' blood is dropped on a piece of paper, and water-repellent ink resembling that of a comic book creates diagnostic colors on the other side, CNN reports. The technology may be incorporated into mobile phones, according to CNN.

Whitesides' prototype allows for testing of STDs and non-sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis and gastroenteritis.

Meanwhile, location-based social network Foursquare recently launched a program to allow patients to check in with the popular service on their mobile device when they enter a clinic for STD testing.