The project is one of 15 announced on 31 January 2018 which aim to tackle international health challenges and will share in £16m in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR).
The funding is part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion government fund to support cutting-edge technology and methods that address challenges faced by low and middle income countries.
The GCRF harnesses the strength of the UK’s research base to support excellent, multidisciplinary research that addresses complex global development challenges. The projects announced today are designed to address key challenges in diagnostics and prosthetics. The funding for the University of Glasgow’s project is part of the GCRF’s focus on the development of affordable, robust, reliable and portable imaging and diagnostics tools that can be used to diagnose and monitor both infectious and non-communicable diseases.
The University of Glasgow’s project brings together the expertise of the University’s School of Engineering, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, and Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, with Epigem Ltd, FIND Diagnostics, Omega Diagnostics (UK), the Gloag Foundation and the University of California Los Angeles.
The researchers aim to tackle the prevalence of parasitic diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis, which together infect more than 415 million people across the world and negatively affect many more.
The team aim to design and manufacture paper-based DNA diagnostic tests, combined with mobile phone-based imaging technology, to provide point-of-care testing in remote locations that can help to enable appropriate and rapid treatment. Health Technology Assessment (HTA) methods will be used to identify, measure, and value the resource, health and broader environmental and societal impacts resulting from improved diagnosis and targeted treatment for both diseases.
The research team includes partners from Uganda and Rwanda, where malaria and schistosomiasis are particularly prevalent.
Professor Jonathan Cooper, Wolfson Chair of Bioengineering at the University of Glasgow, is the principal investigator of the new project. He said: “We’re very pleased to have received this significant funding input from EPSRC, NIHR and the GCRF.
“The ability to quickly diagnose infectious diseases in an affordable manner, with new highly sensitive sensors that can help inform treatment, will be of huge benefit to healthcare workers in low and middle income countries. Our main testing sites will be in Uganda, working with the Vector Control Division in the Ministry of Health and the Infectious Disease Institute in Makerere University. We’re also particularly pleased to be working with our Rwandan colleagues, as the Scottish Government has pledged its support to Rwanda through its international development strategy.
“Our ambition is to explore whether, through not-for-profit business planning, we can develop productive interactions with governments, hospitals, charities and NGOs. Ultimately, we’d be keen to scale the manufacturing of these devices appropriately so that they can eventually be made in Africa, for Africa, by Africans.”
Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC Chief Executive, said: “Responding to healthcare challenges in low and middle income countries can require the development of innovative new approaches; key factors include affordability, portability and the requirement for point-of-care operation in often remote locations.
“The projects announced today ensure that these necessities are incorporated into healthcare solutions that have the potential to transform many lives.”