Harnessing the power of mobile phones and big data for global health
Given at the Royal Society, London, on November 6, 2014.
Infectious diseases rank among the gravest threats to human health alongside global warming and terrorism. New strains continue to evolve every year and can spread rapidly. The consequences can be devastating. The 1918 Spanish flu killed an estimated 50 million people. Today HIV infects 34 million people and the recent Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 1,900 lives. In any outbreak situation we rely on very early detection and accurate disease diagnostics. However, worldwide many infections remain undiagnosed and untreated due to poor diagnostic tools at the point of care. The result is on-going transmission of serious infections and delays in the identification of emerging threats (e.g. pandemic influenza), leading to major human and economic consequences.
In this lecture, Professor Rachel McKendry presented her research to create a new generation of mobile phone connected diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. The widespread use of mobile phones could dramatically increase access to testing outside of hospital settings, particularly in developing countries. Professor McKendry also presented the research foundations of a global early-warning system for infectious diseases that links the millions of symptoms that are self-reported on the web each day to mobile phone connected tests, in real-time and with geographically-linked information. This research lies at the cutting edge of infectious diseases, nanotechnology, telecommunications, big data and public health.
Rachel McKendry is Professor of Biomedical Nanotechnology at UCL and holds a joint position at the London Centre for Nanotechnology and Division of Medicine. She is Director of i-sense, a national £11M EPSRC Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Early Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases, Director of Biomedicine and Life Sciences at the London Centre for Nanotechnology UCL and leads an NIHR i4i grant to develop mobile diagnostics for HIV with OJ-Bio. Professor McKendry has won prestigious fellowships and awards including a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship, Cambridge University Girton College Research Fellowship, IBM Zurich Postdoctoral Researcher, Institute of Physics Paterson Medal and Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award.
The Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture is awarded annually to support the promotion of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Professor Rachel McKendry was awarded the 2014 Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture for her scientific achievement, her suitability as a role model and her project proposal to promote women in STEM.