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Glasgow scientist wins award for disease detection

A University of Glasgow academic has won a £20,000 award for entrepreneurs for his work leading a team that has developed a way of using sound waves to help speed the detection of malaria and sexually transmitted infections.

Dr Julien Reboud, from the university's Division of Biomedical Engineering, was joint winner of this year's Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award.

The funding will be used to help commercialise a technique developed by the team, which could revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of malaria.

The disease takes a heavy toll on developing countries, where heath facilities are often limited.

The SAW Dx technology developed at Glasgow University uses ultrasound waves to help with the identification of infections in samples of blood.

The ultra-fast waves can be used in relatively small devices to create a centrifufge effect to separate out cells without causing the kind of damage seen with other techniques.

"We have demonstrated that we can identify malaria in a drop of blood on a device powered from the rechargeable battery of a mobile phone," said Dr Reboud.

"This rapid hand-held test could help to break the pattern of infection and transmission by enabling both diagnosis and treatment, in one go, in remote environments."

The team previously won $100,000 support for its work from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr Reboud said he was in advanced negotiations with a UK venture capital business about a seed funding package that would be used to speed the commercial development of the technology.

He hopes to have a product on the market within three years.

A Frenchman who has spent three-and-a-half years in Glasgow, Dr Reboud said he expected any business developed to market the technology to be based in Scotland.

He believes the technology could also be used to slash the time taken to diagnose some sexually transmitted infections.

"Our aim is to deliver a diagnosis of the microbial infection within 30 minutes," said Dr Reboud.

"This would be a crucial breakthrough, enabling the patient to be treated during one visit to a clinic, breaking the cycle of infection and transmission.

"We have made significant progress in developing a prototype and optimising the diagnostics, though more work is needed."

Dr Andrew Winter, Consultant in Sexual Health and HIV, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: "Julien's work will transform the patient experience in sexual health clinics.

"With accurate and rapid near-patient molecular testing for STIs such as herpes, syphilis and gonorrhoea, patients will no longer have to wait for days to find out if they have a condition."

Glasgow University believes there is huge commercial potential for the technology.

It said the molecular diagnostic test market was worth nearly $5 billion (£3.3bn) in 2010.

SAW Dx could potentially meet the growing demand for home tests for sexually transmitted infections. The university said the Centers for Disease Control and Infection estimated there were 19.7 million new STIs every year in the US alone.

Dr Reuben Wilcock of the University of Southampton also won an ERA Foundation award for his work on domestic energy monitoring.

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