A consortium of scientists has been formed to try and stem the rise of sexually transmitted diseases (or infections as they are now called) that's said to be reaching epidemic proportions in the UK. As early diagnosis and treatment is essential in such matters, the team is creating a self-diagnosis system where results can quickly be displayed on a mobile phone or computer screen. The system could even automatically make an appointment at a clinic or direct the unfortunate sufferer to the nearest pharmacy, where treatment would be waiting.

The project proposal was put together in response to a rise of sexually transmitted infections of 36 per cent in the UK over the last ten years. The aim is to develop a device that's similar in principle to a self-pregnancy kit. The user would provide the new electronic self-testing instruments for STIs (eSTI) system with a urine sample. The device could then be plugged into a mobile phone or computer for specially developed software to analyze the sample and subsequently give an on-the-spot diagnosis.

Project leader Dr Tariq Sadiq, senior lecturer and consultant physician in sexual health and HIV at St. George's, University of London, said: "Currently, if you want to know if you have an infection, your sample is usually sent to a laboratory and the results come back in a few days. Imagine how much more likely you would be to get tested if you could test yourself away from a clinic and have an on-the-spot, accurate result, but still let a doctor or pharmacist know within minutes that you may need treatment."

In addition to St. George's, other consortium partners include researchers from Brunel University, Warwick University, Queen Mary, University of London, the Health Protection Agency, and industrial partners. The GBP5.7 million (US$9.19 million) eSTI project will use nanotechnology to create the small device to test for such things as chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Dr Sadiq says that the setup could even be configured to automatically make an appointment with the appropriate medical center or send a message to the nearest pharmacy and direct the user there to pick up the treatment, which would of course have already been prepared. There could also be options for informing a partner included in the system.

"The required technology is very close to becoming a reality," said Dr Sadiq. “But there are other issues we need to address before we can use devices in the community – confidentiality and data protection, for example, are supremely important. 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."