For diagnosing an STI, your cell phone may save you a trip to the doctor

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The possibilities are endless when it comes to the kinds of things your smart phone device can accomplish. It can tell you where the nearest Starbucks is, the fastest driving route from home to work, and now a forum called the UK Clinical Research Collaboration is developing technology that will allow your phone to even tell you whether or not you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Seven funders, including the Medical Research Council, have invested four million pounds into designing a computer chip that may be able to render an early diagnosis of an STI. To accomplish this, a person concerned about this possibility would put a drop of their urine or saliva on the computer chip and then insert it into their phones or computer to receive a diagnosis of which, if any, STI they have. The prototypes still need to go through clinical trials and further development, but once on the market in seven to 10 years, they could be sold in vending machines in nightclubs, pharmacies and supermarkets; the developers are hoping to charge as little as a measly 50 pence, less than one U.S. dollar, for the service.

According to project leader Dr. Tariq Sadiq, “Your mobile phone can be your mobile doctor. It diagnoses whether you’ve got one of a range of STIs, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, and tells you where to go next to get treatment.”

Health experts hope the new technology will help decrease the growing number of STIs in Britain, which has one of the highest STI rates in Western Europe. This may be at least partially attributed to the fact that young people are too embarrassed to visit a physician or clinic to get tested, and therefore, continue to harbor the infection and potentially spread it further.

“Maybe this kind of technology can be expanded to diagnose other diseases one day,” says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

Professor Noel Gill, head of HIV and STIs at the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency, says, “HPA surveillance has shown that the impact of STIs is greatest among young people and we hope that the application of new technology will help to reduce transmission of infection in this age group.”