Diagnose Yourself

By Cornblatt, Johannah | Newsweek, November 29, 2010 | Go to article overview

Diagnose Yourself


Cornblatt, Johannah, Newsweek


Byline: Johannah Cornblatt

It sounded like a bad joke. One headline read: THINK YOU HAVE AN STD? PEE ON YOUR PHONE TO FIND OUT. But earlier this month researchers in the U.K. received a $6.4 million grant to develop a test for sexually transmitted diseases that would allow people to place a urine sample on a USB-like plug and get instant results by inserting it into their cell phone or computer. The test won't be commercially available for seven to 10 years, says the project's lead investigator, Dr. Tariq Sadiq. And while it sounds gross, germophobes can relax: "You're not peeing on the computer or mobile phone," Sadiq says. "It's a completely separate device."

We've had a long-running fascination with at-home medical tests. Ancient Egyptians relied on a pregnancy test that was roughly 70 percent accurate: if a woman urinated on grain seeds and they grew--thanks to high levels of estrogen and progesterone in her urine--she was probably pregnant. Today, people still place a high premium on diagnosing themselves from the comfort of their own bathrooms. But while do-it-yourself pregnancy tests now provide correct results nearly 99 percent of the time, many other at-home diagnostic kits may be less reliable.

Over the past year, the Food and Drug Administration has been cracking down on companies selling everything from DNA to STD tests directly to consumers. …

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