A new £3m NIHR award will see Imperial and 13 institutions collaborate to research and develop digital diagnostics for African healthcare systems.
“The project addresses a huge unmet need for access to accurate diagnostics in low- and middle-income countries” Dr Aubrey Cunnington Reader in Paediatric Infectious Diseases, Department of Infectious Disease, Imperial College London
Researchers at Imperial College London and 13 collaborating institutions in Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, the Netherlands, Sudan, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Zambia have been awarded £3 million in funding by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) as part of its Global Health Research Group (GHRG) programme.
The new GHRG will be led by Imperial’s Dr Aubrey Cunnington and Professor Halidou Tinto (Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro, Burkina Faso) and builds on the work of the UKRI GCRF-funded Digital Diagnostics for Africa Network. Within the College, researchers from the Faculties of Medicine, Engineering and Natural Sciences will work closely as part of the interdisciplinary grouping.
Over the next four years, the funding will enable the GHRG to develop and evaluate next-generation digital diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. These digital diagnostics will use Lacewing – a handheld electronic device developed by Professor Pantelis Georgiou’s team at Imperial – which performs highly-sensitive detection of nucleic acids (such as DNA) on the surface of a microchip.
The tests have similar accuracy to large laboratory machines but are rapid, low-cost, and portable. The results are immediately linked to a smartphone which enables data transmission to monitor the real-time detection of different diseases in different locations.
“The project addresses a huge unmet need for access to accurate diagnostics in low- and middle-income countries,” explains Dr Cunnington.
“At present, less than half of the population of Africa have access to essential, accurate diagnostics. This makes it difficult to identify and administer the correct treatments, and to target disease prevention where it is most needed.
“We will evaluate the potential of digital diagnostic technology to tackle common problems including malaria and other childhood infections. The researchers in the project have a wide range of expertise, from electronic and design engineering, to clinical medicine, health systems research, and mathematical modelling.
“The GHRG will recruit 10 African PhD students to receive training and undertake research on digital diagnostics, building capacity in countries which most need these diagnostics.”
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