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Exploratory Projects 2014: Early Warning Sensing Systems for influenza

Home > Exploratory Projects Early Warning Sensing Systems Influenza

The Exploratory Projects programme launched in May 2014 with a call for applications in "Early Warning Sensing Systems for Influenza." 

We are pleased to announce that we have funded 4 exciting new projects and look forward to working with a strong, interdisciplinary team of experts from across UCL, UCL School of Pharmacy, Farr Institute, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College, Institute for Scientific Interchange (ISI), and Public Health England.

This new expertise will significantly contribute to our mission to grow the i-sense network into a self-sustained hub of innovation and develop global early warning systems to help protect populations from the threat of a pandemic flu outbreak. 

Please find case studies below: 

Building and Maintaining Public Trust in Early Warning Sensing Systems for Influenza

If new technologies are to provide solutions that are not only technically successful, but also ethically acceptable, it is vital that ethics and governance of the technologies are considered at the very early stages of development. 

i-sense have teamed up with the Department of Philosophy at UCL and the National Centre for Infectious Disease Surveilance to provide an analysis of the key ethical and regulatory challenges for early warning sensing systems for influenza. 

They will also examine how to build and maintain trust in these systems from two interlinked perspectives. The first is that of the patients and citizens whose data (test results, internet searches and social networking activities) will feed into the proposed geographically-linked dashboard display. The second is from a systems perspective, examining the kinds of incentives necessary to reassure citizens that their trust in i-sense's systems is well placed. 

Our ultimate goal is to ensure that we balance privacy against the public good. The project will inform decision-making about the regulation and future development of the point-of-care technologies produced by i-sense and a proposed ethical and regulatory framework for point-of-care tests in the UK.

People: James Wilson, Benedict RumboldRosanna Peeling, Rachel McKendry, Richard Pebody, and Ingemar Cox.

Flusurvey: Digital health detection of influenza in the community

i-sense are collaborating with Flusurvey, the UK’s biggest crowd-sourced study of influenza, to help monitor the spread of flu in the UK more accurately and earlier than ever before.

Flusurvey scientists at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) monitor flu across the UK by analysing weekly information relating to symptoms, provided in an online questionnaire by volunteers. With this new funding Flusurvey will, for the first time, be able to verify this data by offering some of their participants a swab to use at home, to confirm if their symptoms are caused by a flu virus or not. 

Verifying cases of a virus (through laboratory testing and self-tests) is a crucial part of efforts to spot a pandemic flu outbreak with the potential to cause serious illness and death, and Flusurvey data feeds into national surveillance programmes. Together with scientists from Public Health England (PHE) and UCL, the results of these swabs will be analysed and combined with data from the millions of symptoms reported every day via web searches and social media platforms such as Twitter, providing geographically-linked information and supporting a more accurate picture of influenza-like illnesses in the UK.

People: John Edmunds, Rachel McKendry, Ellen Fragaszy, Andrew Hayward, Richard Pebody, Daniela Paolotti, Ingemar Cox, Patty Kostkova, Henry Potts, Ann Blandford, Matthew Donati and Clare Wenham

Carbon nanotube electrodes for sensitive and rapid influenza diagnostics


In recent years, a variety of microfluidic paper-based analytical devices have been demonstrated, providing rapid, cheap and easily disposable diagnostic platforms. However, the qualitative, optical nature of the readout can be difficult to interpret and limits the sensitivity of the test. Flu diagnosis needs a more accurate and sensitive quantitative diagnosis. 

Together, with scientists from Imperial College, i-sense is exploring the suitability of carbon nanotubes as electrodes in paper-based devices for accurate, machine-readable test results. 

The use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) will provide advantages over existing carbon paste prototypes, and coupled with new carbon chemistries, may enable a variety of new modes of operation. The electrodes will be first tested to establish the sensitivity achievable in different transduction mechanisms and the most promising embodiments will be selected for further development to quantitatively detect Influenza A Nucleoprotein.

People: Milo Shaffer, Claudio Parolo, Benjamin Miller, Neal Skipper and Rachel McKendry

A Novel Sensor System for Influenza: Combining chemical sensors with mobile phones for rapid diagnosis 

One of the key challenges in reducing flu outbreaks, and the associated health and economic losses, is the length of time that it takes to diagnose patients. Earlier intervention and isolation of infected patients could potentially lead to a rapid reduction in the costs for international health agencies and save thousands of lives.

In a new collaboration between the Hilton, McKendry and Stevens laboratories, we will demonstrate that the influenza virus can be detected with chemical sensors and more importantly, that the level of infectivity can be quantified instantly using a mobile phone camera for diagnosis. This would enable the immediate analysis of infection. 

The longer-term translational objective is to develop a low-cost analytical device for the quantification and classification of viral infectivity.