NanoKTN members secure £11m to develop early warning systems for infectious diseases

Next-generation smart phone technologies could be used to allow doctors to test and track serious infectious diseases

Members of the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN), one of the UK’s primary knowledge-based networks for micro and nanotechnologies, have been awarded more than £11m in further funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to establish a new Healthcare Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC).

Led by Dr Rachel McKendry from University College London (UCL), together with Newcastle University, Imperial College London, and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the collaboration will develop next-generation smart phone technologies to allow doctors to test and track serious infectious diseases – such as new strains of influenza, HIV and MRSA – much earlier than ever before, empowering patients to gain faster access to treatment and protect the public.

Microsoft Research, OJ-Bio, Mologic, Cambridge Life Sciences, Zurich Instruments and O2 Health will also be involved in the project.

With EPSRC funding we now aim to create a new generation of mobile test and web-tracking systems that could save millions of people from deadly diseases

The partners will develop low cost, easy to use smart phone-connected diagnostic tests based on advances in nanotechnology to diagnose infections rapidly in community settings including GP surgeries, elderly care homes, developing countries or even at home. Results will be sent securely to healthcare systems, alerting doctors to potentially serious outbreaks with geographically linked information. The system will also track reported illness and symptoms across populations by searching millions of online sources including Internet searches and social media posts to identify outbreaks even before people attend clinics or from resource-limited settings.

McKendry met Dr Dale Athey from OJ-Bio, a joint venture between UK nanobiotechnology specialist Orla Protein Technologies and Japanese electronics and communications company Japan Radio Company, at NanoKTN’s Miniaturisation in Healthcare Products event in November 2011. The meeting led to a successful collaboration last year where both partners were awarded more than £1m i4i funding from the National Institute for Health Research for rapid, early warning HIV test development.

‘Our subsequent work with OJ-Bio has played a key role in the new IRC grant,’ said McKendry. ‘With EPSRC funding we now aim to create a new generation of mobile test and web-tracking systems that 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 to prevent infectious diseases.’

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