Bill Gates backs Liverpool scientists in disease battle

Scientists at iiCON in Liverpool have developed a diagnostic tool to help fight deadly diseases such as malaria and Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates is backing the project. Tony McDonough reports

Bill Gates
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is backing scientists at the iiCON project in Liverpool

 

Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates is backing scientists in Liverpool who have developed a new tool in the battle against deadly diseases such as malaria.

There are an estimated 219m cases of Malaria globally. Around 93% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa, with children aged under five years old accounting for 61% of all deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Another disease, visceral leishmaniasis, affects people in the world’s poorest communities and is fatal in 95% of cases if left untreated. It is linked to malnutrition, population displacement and poor housing.

Now scientists at the Liverpool-based Infection Innovation Consortium (iiCON), a £174m collaboration between academia and business, have developed a new non-invasive diagnostic tool that utilises sensor technology.

Indoor residual spraying (IRS) is a powerful tool and one of the first line strategies used to reduce transmission of vector-borne diseases such as visceral leishmaniasis and Malaria. Interior walls are sprayed with insecticides which provide long-lasting protection from the parasites which transmit the disease.

However, there is currently no easy field-friendly system for monitoring that the target dose of insecticide has been delivered in real-time during IRS. Funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), iiCON has developed a hand-held sensor device to support India’s visceral leishmaniasis elimination programme.

It accurately monitors the dose of the insecticide, Alpha-Cypermethrin, delivered on targeted buildings such as houses and cattlesheds.

The new diagnostic tool is the result of a collaboration that brings together the expertise of iiCON lead partner Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), and a Merseyside SME manufacturing partner 4D Products.

Designed by LJMU’s Built Environment and Sustainable Technology Research Institute (BEST) at the Faculty of Engineering and Technology at LJMU, the hand-held sensor uses advanced AI analysis and electromagnetic wave technology to detect residual Alpha-Cypermethrin on sprayed wall surfaces to check for the correct dose.

It has undergone rigorous testing under both laboratory and field conditions, using the WHO-approved gold standard methods as the comparator for device performance. Additional funding from BMGF has now also been secured to expand use of this technology and develop a sensor for use in anti-malaria programmes.

Dr Rinki Deb, iiCON’s senior programme manager, said:  “Huge strides are being made to tackle Malaria and Visceral Leishmaniasis globally and iiCON is delighted to be supporting these efforts through the development of this innovative tool, which will help to save lives both in India and Africa.

“Although equipped with sophisticated sensor technology, from the perspective of the end user, the IRS sensor is a simple point and read device. It does not require extensive training or additional equipment – so it is perfect for use in-field, particularly in resource-poor settings.

“Working collaboratively across organisations to drive forward innovations which will improve and save lives globally is at the heart of the consortium’s purpose and we look forward to seeing this project continue to grow and evolve and deliver widespread global benefit to communities most in need.”

Led by LSTM, iiCON was founded with government funding provided through UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund. It brings together industry, academia, and the NHS in a collaborative infectious disease R&D programme.

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