iiCON project leverages sensor technology for breakthrough diagnostic tool

iiCON (The Infection Innovation Consortium) is working with partners to develop a new non-invasive diagnostic tool that leverages sensor technology in the battle to eliminate some of the world’s deadliest vector-borne diseases, including Malaria and Visceral leishmaniasis.

Visceral leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that commonly affects people in some of the world’s poorest communities. It is fatal if left untreated in over 95% of cases, and is associated with malnutrition, population displacement, poor housing, a weak immune system, and lack of resources.

There are an estimated 219 million cases of Malaria globally. An estimated 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).

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, that 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 Ltd.

The hand-held sensor device designed by LJMU’s Built Environment and Sustainable Technology Research Institute (BEST) at the Faculty of Engineering and Technology at LJMU, uses advanced AI analysis and electromagnetic wave technology to detect residual Alpha-Cypermethrin on sprayed wall surfaces in India, and measure whether the correct dose has been applied.

The innovative and easy-to-use tool 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 suitable for measuring IRS performance for programmes across Africa tackling the spread of Malaria.

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 senor 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.”

Professor Patryk Kot, Deputy Director, Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies (BEST) Research Institute at LJMU, said: “It is remarkable how the research concept has progressed to an innovative tool in such a short period of time. The developed technology has been applied and validated in the field and already contributed to saving lives and tackling deadly VL disease in developing countries like India and Africa.

“We are hugely grateful to the Gates Foundation and it’s an absolute privilege to work with them, iiCON and LSTM to address these challenges and see how this technology can save live.”

Professor Andy Shaw, Director of the Built Environment and Sustainable Technology Research Institute (BEST) in the Faculty of Engineering and Technology at LJMU, said: “It’s really satisfying to develop a technology that can make a real world difference. The expansion of this for using it in Africa is a real technological challenge and one we relish tackling.”

Led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (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 £174 million collaborative infectious disease R&D programme to accelerate the discovery, development and deployment of new antimicrobial treatments and products. Its partners are Unilever, Evotec, Liverpool University Hospitals Foundation Trust, The University of Liverpool, and Infex Therapeutics.