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Tech, Research

Urine dipstick test detects cause of disease that blinds millions

31/10/2018By Richard Chiu • Staff Journalist
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Scripps Research Institute scientists have developed a urine test for detecting parasitic worms that cause a blinding disease believed to currently affect up to 120 million people.

The non-invasive urine diagnostic test provides an inexpensive, real-time method of determining whether a person is infected with river blindness.

The new technique could give doctors and public health officials vital information in treating infections or tracking outbreaks.

“River blindness affects individuals both in Africa and Latin America, and because many of these endemic regions are difficult to access, what is needed in the field is an inexpensive point-of-care means to monitor the disease,” investigator Professor Kim Janda said.

Current tests are insensitive and often can’t distinguish between past and current infections.

Key to the lateral flow assay’s success are ‘designer’ antibodies that detect a unique biomarker which only shows up when a human host has metabolised a worm neurotransmitter called tyramine. Humans then secrete this biomarker in urine.

A negative on the ‘dipstick’ test shows a coloured line in the test. No lines indicate the presence of parasitic worms.

The dipstick’s inexpensive design, coupled with smartphone apps, would offer automatic image processing, which ultimately could translate to address critical gaps in the surveillance and treatment of river blindness.

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