Health technology company Pictura Bio has announced that it has been awarded Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) funding to develop a portable prototype of its AI-powered disease testing platform for use in military settings, where infection diseases are a substantial threat.

The new device has the potential to drastically improve diagnostic testing capabilities, helping to limit the impact of infectious diseases on military operations by identifying diseases from a sample within minutes.

DASA, part of the Government’s Ministry of Defence, ran this competition on behalf of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) to find technologies that can help diagnose and treat military personnel deployed in the field, while addressing the limitations of current in-field diagnostics.

Military personnel can be highly susceptible to infectious diseases like influenza, MERS, Ebola, and respiratory infections, due to the physical and mental strains of deployment, close living quarters, frequent contact with novel pathogens and lack of good sanitation.

These diseases have a significant impact on the health of military troops, potentially leading to the cancellation of military operations.

Dr Dominic Jenner, senior scientist at Dstl, said: “Technologies currently available to enable the diagnosis of individuals exposed to infectious diseases are often time-consuming and resource intensive, this presents a particular challenge for deployed personnel.

“The DASA Point of Care Diagnostics competition for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory aimed to find innovations that could provide quick and easy diagnoses on the frontline.

“Innovations funded through this competition could ultimately help improve the UK’s capability to manage and treat personnel affected by virulent infectious agents.

Pictura Bio put forward a compelling proposal offering a potentially innovative approach to diagnostics, and we are very interested in helping this technology progress.”

Pictura Bio was one of two applicants that received funding for the development and optimisation of IDRIS (In-Field Diagnostic for Rapid Infection Sensing), a robust and portable device designed specifically for frontline point-of-care use.

IDRIS uses artificial intelligence (AI) specifically trained to recognise pathogens in throat and nose swab samples, including all those affecting military personnel.

Device provides faster results

The device surpasses current diagnostic methods in terms of speed, cost-effectiveness, and accuracy, providing results within five minutes with 99% accuracy.

An IDRIS prototype is currently in development and is expected to be completed by February 2024. Pictura Bio ultimately aims to deploy IDRIS in multiple medical settings across the UK to help contain infectious disease outbreaks through early testing, treatment and isolation of patients.

Alex Batchelor, CEO at Pictua Bio, said: “It is clear there is a significant gap in the market for instant, accurate and affordable point-of-care diagnostics for use in-field.

“By moving away from centralised lab testing, we can take necessary action much quicker to better control the spread of diseases and improve the health of military personnel.

“Our disease testing platform is ideally suited for in-field testing on the front line because it is small, portable, requires little expertise to operate and provides a solution for all of the challenges posed by current diagnostics.”

The use of technology to enhance healthcare has been championed by the Ministry of Defence for several years, evident when it selected InterSystems in 2021 to make it easier for medics to access medical information on behalf of the Defence Medical Services.