Design and Science students develop sexual health solution

1 July 2019
University of Sydney students gathered with students from across nine countries at Parsons School of Design and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York in late June for the Biodesign Challenge Summit to showcase projects that use biodesign to address global challenges.

Selected from over 100 teams at 36 universities and high schools, the University of Sydney finalists presented before global leaders in art, design, and biotechnology, and an audience of 400 over two days. Teams showcased new visions for biotechnology’s use in food, medicine, materials, fashion, architecture and many more fields.

Sydney University’s interdisciplinary team is made up of three Medical Science students and two Design Computing students led by Dr Phillip Gough from Design Lab.

Together, the team identified a problem: how to give young people more control over their sexual health by increasing availability and convenience of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) testing.

“STI tests are vital as some STIs have terrible consequences, however the statistics show that young people are not engaging with the health system in this area,” Dr Gough said.

Once they identified the issues and needs in this space, the University team looked into the relevant statistics, interviewed domain experts, organised focus groups with potential user groups and iterated concepts that apply biological science to formulate a new concept of rapid, reliable STI testing that is convenient and discreet. 

Their final concept, Strawberry, uses phagosensors, a modified bacteriophage (a virus that infects very specific bacteria) to detect three STIs that have been identified by NSW Health and the UN World Health Organisation as targets for action to reduce incidence and increase testing coverage.

By taking an interdisciplinary approach, we have the best of both worlds. Science students contribute deep disciplinary knowledge, and the design students work with them to apply design research methods.
Dr Phillip Gough, Design Lab

“Biodesign helps us approach this kind of problem from a new direction, and address the issues using methods familiar to designers to promote human health and wellbeing.

“The final concept is a product that addresses medical needs through a design process which, overcomes issues of accessibility, equity or stigma.” Said Dr Gough.

Projects were judged according to three sets of criteria: conceptual elegance, presentation and consideration of various cultural and environmental factors. The overall winning team is presented with the Glass Mircrobe, created by artist Luke Jerram, a unique artwork and symbol of the intersection of art, design and biology.

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