The importance of technology in health has been recognised by the World Health Organisation who launched a call for innovative technologies in 2009. The call was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation within the framework of the Global Initiative for Health Technologies that was launched in 2008 and was aimed at identifying and evaluating innovative medical devices, either existing or under development, which address global health concerns and which are likely to be accessible, appropriate and affordable for use in low- and middle-income countries.

Over the last decade, mobile phones have evolved from relatively simple communication devices to the most ubiquitous computing and sensing platform on the planet. With mobile phone subscriptions close to 6 billion people, more people now have access to a mobile phone than electricity (5.8 billion) or safe drinking water (4.5 billion). This unprecedented level of technology penetration provides enormous opportunity for applications in global health (in both the developed and developing world). In the developed world, there is now a very strong focus on the development of patient-centric models of healthcare delivery as a means of reducing the economic burden of chronic disease. Within these models, mobile phones are considered to play a critical role and may well become the technology platform of choice for healthcare delivery in the future. This view is already reflected in both industry activity toward the development of mobile phone-based health technologies and in the scientific literature. In particular, an area that will impact significantly on human health is the ability to perform biodiagnostic tests using mobile phone technology. The focus is primarily on mobile phone technologies, but for many biodiagnostic assays we also need easy-to-use, robust and low-cost cartridge with sample preparation and bio-sensitive elements that mobile phones interfaces with.

Current Areas of Research Interest

Members are researching a variety of technologies that could address global health concerns including:

Malaria vaccines

At RCSI, Prof. Sam McConkey leads a phase 1 clinical Malaria vaccine trial which aims to develop and test new vaccines which would prevent the 1.2 million deaths from malaria in childhood. One study, funded by the European Vaccine Initiative, has just completed enrolment, and is now in the follow-up stage. A second technology under investigation is malaria surveillance funded by Irish Aid and HRB to set up and evaluate the malaria surveillance system in The Gambia.


Diagnostic Technologies

Researchers in the BDI, at DCU, are focused on the development of next generation Point-of-Care (POC) diagnostic technologies. Early diagnosis is a key driver for developing highly sensitive devices, which will identify ultra-low concentrations of biomarkers during the early stages of diseases, for example cancer, infectious and cardiovascular disease. For the most part, photoluminescence is the sensor transduction approach due to its high sensitivity compared to most other approaches e.g., colorimetry, refractometry and electrochemical sensing. The emphasis in the BDI has been on the development of enhanced fluorescence-based diagnostic platforms with increased signal-to-background ratio (SBR) to facilitate improved limit of detection (LOD) and resolution power. Among the signal enhancement strategies developed by CMD at the BDI are (i) plasmonic enhancement and (ii) supercritical angle fluorescence (SAF). To date, significant signal enhancement and improved bioassay performance for both protein and DNA-based assays have been achieved within the BDI using both these strategies. Researchers are developing optical signal amplification strategies for enhanced optical biomedical sensor platforms for applications in point-of-care diagnosis, for instance cancer and infectious disease. The work here has 3 strands (i) development of ultra-bright silica nanoparticles for cell imaging and enhanced RNA assays (ii) Supercritical Angle fluorescence (SAF) based enhanced light collection  platforms for improved bioassays and (iii) metal-nanoparticle-based plasmonic platforms for biomedical diagnostics.

Health Informatics

Dr Pamela Hussey is a lecturer in Health Informatics and nursing at DCU. Her research interests include Health care systems and processes, particularly the Electronic Healthcare Record (EHR) and health informatics standards on concepts and terminology. Current projects include working with public health nurses on population health tools using digital data entry devices and the development of an online resource for education on EHR scope purpose. This resource is a collaborative initiative between DCU , DIT and TCD and is scheduled for completion in November 2012. At an international /european level she is engaged with a joint working group in CEN (WG1 and WG2) health informatics standards harmonisation between core EHR standards EN13940 (Contsys) , EN13606 (EHRcom), EN12967 (HISA). The purpose of this group is to 1. Describe the issues relating to concurrent use of these three important standards for future EHR development 2. To map/ extend the 3 standards as required for future implementation 3. To create or faciliate implementation guides for future deliverables.

Engineering – ‘Sustainable Hand Pump Design’

A collaborative project between DCU and DkIT researching wear on hand-pump piston seals. Initial work highlights improved wear characteristics for nitrile rubber piston seals using a diamond like coating. Field trials in Uganda are due to commence in 2012. The project is part of the bigger project ‘Water Is Life: Amazzi Bulamu’ which is a HEA/IrishAid funded partnership of Irish Higher Education Institutions (MU, DCU, RCSI ,DkIT TCD, UCD, QUB, Makerere University Kampala, the Medical Missionaries of Mary and various NGOs. The goal of the partnership, in support of the Government of Ireland’s development goals, is to build research capacity in Ireland and Africa and to conduct research that supports sustainable water resource management as a catalyst for sustainable economic and social development in rural Uganda.

Future Research Interests and Collaboration

Proposals for future research/collaboration are invited. The following are research areas of interest:

Diagnostic Technologies

  • Development of microfluidic systems for water analysis.
  • The development/integration/miniaturisation of biodiagnostic technologies from JIGH partners and examine possible intersections with mobile phone technology.
  • Research on the factors that influence the uptake and use of mobile phone-based health interventions, along with their impact.

The blend of technical expertise in diagnostic development, with the societal and population context provided by social scientists has led to the design of novel instrumentation and subsequent success in publication.

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