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Tropical Disease Diagnostics Now on Market

Jimmy Carter at African clinic

The Carter Center, founded by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, has been instrumental in eradicating river blindness in Africa. (share.america.gov)

12 April 2016. PATH research institute and medical test developer Standard Diagnostics are making available tests for the tropical diseases onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis. The rapid, point-of-care tests are designed to help health authorities in Africa and other regions better monitor the spread of the diseases in campaigns to eradicate their occurrence.

Onchocerciasis is an eye and skin disease commonly known as river blindness that occurs in Africa and parts of Mexico, Central, and South America. The disease is transmitted to humans through bites of black flies in the simulium species. In humans, worms from the female flies that enter through bites are toxic to eyes and skin leading to irreversible blindness and disfiguring skin lesions.

Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is caused by parasitic nematode worms called filariae that collect and breed in the human lymphatic system, a key part of the immune system. Effects of lymphatic filariasis are painful and disfiguring, including swelling of limbs and genitals. World Health Organization says the disease occurs in 55 countries, with 120 million infected and 40 million disfigured, as of the year 2000.

While treatments for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis are available, health authorities in affected regions need faster and easy-to-deploy diagnostics to determine where the diseases are spreading and to track progress. PATH, a global health research institute in Seattle, developed point-of-care diagnostics for the diseases, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Standard Diagnostics, a commercial medical test developer in Seoul, South Korea, is making the tests commercially available.

The diagnostics check for characteristic antibodies of the diseases in a single drop of blood. Because affected areas for both diseases overlap to a large extent, PATH developed one diagnostic, the Oncho/LF IgG4 biplex test, for both diseases. The test detects identifying Ov16 antibodies for onchocerciasis and Wb123 antibodies for lymphatic filariasis. PATH credits researchers at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at National Institutes of Health for identifying and characterizing antigens for these antibodies.

The second diagnostic, Lymphatic Filariasis IgG4 test, detects only Wb123 antibodies. PATH designed the test for regions where treatments for lymphatic filariasis are already available and better monitoring is needed. A similar test only for onchocerciasis was released earlier by Standard Diagnostics. PATH is seeking partners for demonstrations and operations of the tests.

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