Edinburgh's international diagnostics challenge

24 Feb 2017
Written by
Sarah Bailey and Daniel Berman

The AMR DxC Winter School is an exchange programme run by the University of Edinburgh. The School is led by Dr Till Bachmann, Reader in Personalised Medicine in Infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh and Longitude Prize panel member, and funded through the BBSRC Global Challenges Research Fund-Impact Acceleration Account at University of Edinburgh.

Daniel leads the Longitude Prize and Sarah is Assistant Programme Manager. 

This week we headed north to the University of Edinburgh to attend part of a week long Winter School for diagnostics development. The AMR DxC School, the brainchild of Dr Till Bachmann, aims to foster cross-discipline and cross-geographical collaboration between researchers, and encourage the next generation to turn their attention to developing innovative and transformative diagnostics to aid the fight against AMR.

The School is attended by students from both the University of Edinburgh and universities in lower and middle income countries all over the world. This year’s intake sees participants from Namibia, South Africa, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania and Brazil, amongst others. Throughout the week, students engage in discussions, seminars, lectures, case studies, group work and hear from experts within the field, to help shape their understanding of the issues surrounding AMR and the role of diagnostics in tackling the problem.

Topics throughout the week are wide-ranging, giving students a truly diverse understanding of the issues at play. We dropped in to the Wednesday afternoon session on translation and industrial development, and listened to Paul Chapman, a patent attorney at Marks and Clerk and Longitude Panel member, covering intellectual property, and Micah Atkins from Australian microfluidics company MiniFAB discussing how to overcome device development challenges. The afternoon was interspersed with real-world examples of point-of-care diagnostics including Quantum Dx’s point-of-care TB test QPoc, and Oxford Nanopore’s Minion and Smidgion sequencing technology.

POC diagnostics

Later that evening the Prize ran a side event to the School, focused on the considerations for developing a rapid point-of-care diagnostic. We also had the chance to hear from Stephen Gillespie of Orbital Diagnostics, one of our Discovery Awards 2016 winners, about how his team is developing their SLIC test to meet the Prize’s criteria.

The students raised some pertinent questions about diagnostics in lower and middle income countries, including the need to make sure that POC tests can be used in settings where electricity is intermittent and access points for antibiotics are often outside the healthcare system, and unregulated. Students were keen to see that new tests in development can address these needs, particularly any test that goes on to win the Longitude Prize.

AMR diagnostics competition

The week-long Winter School culminated with a fierce competition between five multidisciplinary teams that competed to design or better use diagnostics to combat AMR in developing countries.

The five teams presented their ideas to a panel of judges much in the way that start-ups present their ideas to venture capitalists.  After each presentation, each team was grilled by the panel of judges.

The Panel judges were chosen for their expertise in developing and funding diagnostic tests:

  • Dr Gyorgy Abel, clinical pathologist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington (USA)
  • Dr Penny Wilson, Innovation Platform Leader, Innovate UK
  • Dr Stephen Gillespie, Sir James Black Chair of Medicine, University of St Andrews (UK)
  • Prof Susan Welburn, Professor of Medical and Veterinary Molecular Epidemiology, Vice-Principal Global Access, University of Edinburgh
  • Daniel Berman, Lead, Longitude Prize at Nesta (UK)

The judges assessed and ranked the five teams according to:

  • clarity of problem definition
  • level of innovation in their approach and thinking
  • relevance for multiple countries or regions and
  • potential impact of their product or strategy.

After presenting their plans, judges asked important questions, including:

  • Was the identified problem considered critical by the medical community?
  • Would the test/strategy reduce morbidity?
  • Would it be accepted by patients and health professionals?
  • How would it be tested and validated?

The student teams demonstrated high levels of creativity, sophistication of analysis and a multidisciplinary approach. This was due to the fact that team members were from diverse academic backgrounds that ranged from medicine, microbiology, chemistry, engineering, design and communication to disciplines in the social sciences, from developed and developing countries.

Although the competition was fierce, ultimately the judges chose a team that showed exceptional creativity and innovation. This team’s test was focused on diagnosing pathogens in Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).  The collaboration between the medical, researcher and engineering members of the team was clear in the proposed test design. They also had the idea to creatively integrate existing inkjet printer and paper technology into their point-of-care test delivery.

The organisers of AMR DxC envisage that the programme will result in a “network for international, interdisciplinary and innovative R&D on AMR diagnostics”. From what we’ve seen this week, the School, now in its third year, is an incredibly successful initiative, attracting talented students with the drive to collaborate to tackle AMR.

The AMR Dx Winter School

Schedule and speakers

AMR Dx Winter School Blog