Phones to diagnose STIs


By Claudie Qumsieh

Mobile phones could soon be used to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  The tests will work by the user putting a urine or saliva sample onto a microchip which they can insert into their phone. The software will analyse the sample and make recommendations for treatment, details of nearest GP surgery or clinic and even arrange automatic prescription to be made available at the local pharmacist.

The new £5.7 million project has been launched to develop this self-testing technology which will use nanotechnology in phones and computers. The test has the advantage of being both private and quick. Home testing hopes to prevent diagnosis being delayed by people’s reluctance to go to the doctors out of embarrassment.

The project, eSTI², is led by Dr Tariq Sadiq senior lecturer and consultant physician in sexual health and HIV at St George’s, University of London. Sadiq says “By making diagnosis easier to access in the community, with immediate results, we aim to reduce infection rates and improve sexual health.”

The technology hopes to address the problem of increasing numbers of infections in young people. STI’s can have long-term implications including infertility.

In the UK there has been a 36% rise of STIs in the past decade. An ISD Scotland survey on genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics found a quarter of all acute STI diagnoses are in people under 20 years old. STIs are higher in men than women. More new acute STIs were in men with syphilis, gonorrhoea, genital warts, NSGI (non-specific genital infection), non-chlamydial, HIV and other More women were diagnosed with chlamydia, genital herpes and trichomoniasis.  The highest rates recorded were in Lothian, Tayside  and Greater Glasgow & Clyde.

The technology is still at development stage. The test will eventually be made available for sale in supermarkets, night club vending machines and pharmacies and will cost up to £1.

Dr Sadiq said “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.”

The Medical Research Council has given a £4million grant to the consortium comprising academic and industrial researchers including St George’s, University College London, Brunel University, Warwick University, Queen Mary, University of London and the Health Protection Agency.

For information on diagnosis of STIs see the NHS website.