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The University of Southampton

Southampton scientists to develop new rapid test in fight against sexually transmitted infections

Published: 9 December 2010

Scientists from the University of Southampton have secured funding to develop an ultra-rapid sexually transmitted infection (STI) detection system for clinics that can detect STIs in under 15 minutes.

The Client (Clinic-based Infection Examination through Nucleic acid Technologies) detection system will use short fluorescently-labelled DNA sequences, called HyBeacons®, that are able to detect sections of DNA sequence with a genetic variation that identify the presence of an STI .

The technologies are being developed by scientists from LGC, a leading chemical and biological analytical services and reference materials company, working in collaboration with the University of Southampton and OptiGene, who will refine and manufacture the desktop amplification device and assay (a test to find and measure the amount of a specific substance) for rapidly testing genetic markers for detection of STIs.

The scientists have received substantial Technology Strategy Board funding to develop clinical equipment, based on LGC’s HyBeacons® technology, that can detect STIs in under 15 minutes.

The project brings together researchers from across the University of Southampton with interests in development of novel molecular probes (Professor Tom Brown from the Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences), the biology of chlamydia (Ian Clarke, Professor of Molecular Microbiology from the Faculty of Medicine) and development of point-of care molecular testing (Dr John Holloway from the Faculty of Medicine).

Professor Ian Clarke says: “The combination of LGC and OptiGene together with the University of Southampton is a unique partnership between industry and academia. It brings together the critical components necessary for the development of a novel, sensitive, accurate and extremely rapid point of care test that will revolutionise STI diagnostics.”

Professor Tom Brown is working with LGC to produce a new generation of more powerful fluorophore molecules (a component of a molecule which causes it to be fluorescent) to enable the HyBeacons® probes to detect STIs with greater accuracy and speed.

The Chlamydia Research Group, based in the University’s School of Medicine who work closely with the HPA regional laboratory based at Southampton General Hospital, will use universally-conserved sequences from sexually transmitted bacteria as a basis for developing the Client tests. This team will also lead the collaboration in the design of the Client testing kits.

Dr Paul Debenham, LGC’s Director of Innovation and Development, adds: “The goal of this project is to achieve a significant step forward in the fight against sexually transmitted infections. Simple, rapid testing, in the order of a 15-minute turnaround, will result in a significant step-change in the efficacy of STI treatment. LGC is extremely excited about the possibilities of this new near-patient diagnostic service.”

Notes for editors

  • 1. The investment follows a successful application to the 'Fighting Infection Through Detection' competition for funding, managed by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board and supported by the Department of Health and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Through the competition, over £12 million is to be invested in a range of research and development projects that will advance diagnostic capabilities for the detection of infectious agents in humans and animals, and in pilot schemes that will test new point of care devices.

    2. The Technology Strategy Board is a business-led executive non-departmental public body, established by the government. Its role is to promote and support research into, and development and exploitation of, technology and innovation for the benefit of UK business, in order to increase economic growth and improve the quality of life. It is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). For further information please visit

    3. HyBeacons® PCR probes are short fluorescently labelled DNA sequences that can be designed to detect sections of DNA sequence with a genetic variation. The central location of the fluorescent molecule within the probe has considerable advantages over probes that have signalling chemistry at the end of the DNA probe. LGC developed HyBeacons® probes in response to forensic and medical requirements to identify key genetic differences between individuals, or to distinguish micro-organisms. The probes have unique characteristics that make them suitable for very rapid diagnostic and point-of-care applications. HyBeacons® assays have been designed for use in medical genetic as well as infectious diagnostic testing.

    4. LGC ( is an international science-based company and market leader in analytical, forensic and diagnostic services and reference standards. A progressive and innovative enterprise, LGC operates in socially responsible fields underpinning the safety, health and security of the public and the regulation of industry, for UK government departments and blue chip clients.

    LGC operates internationally through four divisions - LGC Forensics, LGC Genomics, LGC Standards and LGC Science & Technology, which includes specialist laboratories delivering contracts for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and supporting LGC's designated role as the UK's National Measurement Institute for chemical and bioanalytical measurement.

    5. OptiGene, which is based in Horsham, West Sussex, will refine and manufacture the desktop amplification device for rapidly testing genetic markers for detection of STIs by the HyBeacons® technology. The company is now developing the device for two-colour detection and iso-thermal amplification methods to create a system that is faster than polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Because temperature cycling is not required the new detection system uses simpler instrumentation.

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