University of Dundee

CLS research leads to important step in elimination of sleeping sickness

22 Apr 2014

FIND (Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics) and the University of Dundee have signed a Material Transfer Agreement under which new reagents developed by the University will be made available for the development of an improved version of a rapid test for sleeping sickness, a deadly parasitic disease also known as Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT).

A first generation rapid test for HAT was developed by FIND and partners and made commercially available in September 2013. This test is manufactured by Standard Diagnostics, Inc. (SD) of the Republic of Korea and is being introduced in multiple endemic countries as part of new diagnostic strategies to improve early detection of HAT patients.

The second generation rapid test will be co-developed by SD and FIND, and will include new antigens that were developed by the University of Dundee and BBI Solutions, who demonstrated their great diagnostic potential in prototype rapid tests for sleeping sickness. The new test is planned to be launched in early 2015.

Sustainable, large-scale production of the second generation test will be possible because unlike the first generation one it is based on a new format of antigens that are easier to produce. As a result the new test is also expected to be more affordable than the current one.

While the first generation rapid test is being rolled out with very promising results, the availability of this improved version of the test will further enhance effective control of HAT by facilitating screening in the most remote settings where the disease occurs. This supports the commitments made in the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases of 2012 and will directly contribute to the World Health Organization’s goal to eliminate the disease by 2020.

Professor Michael Ferguson, Dean of Research in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee, said, “I am particularly pleased that we have been able to translate high-tech basic science towards a tangible product for clinical use. This is a good example of the impact that good science can have on human health.

“What we are contributing to is a second-generation `lateral flow test’, where a pin-prick of blood is placed on a device, otherwise similar to a pregnancy test, and within minutes one can see whether a patient is a suspected case of Human African Trypanosomiasis, also known as African sleeping sickness. Suspected cases then need to be confirmed by parasitology before initiating treatment. The technology is robust, cheap to manufacture, does not require specialised equipment or training and is ideally suited for use in the field.

“Good diagnostic tests are essential to the international goal of eliminating African sleeping sickness, a disease transmitted by the bites of tsetse flies in sub-Saharan Africa, as are new and safer drugs. Happily, there is good progress in diagnostics, thanks to FIND and including our contribution, and in new drugs, thanks to the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) who also benefit from drug discovery performed in the University of Dundee Drug Discovery Unit.

“I would particularly like to pay tribute to the talented team of scientists who performed the diagnostics research; Lauren Sullivan, Jennifer Fleming, Lalitha Sastry and Angela Mehlert in my laboratory, Steven Wall at BBI Solutions in the Dundee Technology Park and our collaborator Mark Carrington at Cambridge University. This work was supported by The Wellcome Trust and by the Medical Research Council, who supported PhD and post-doctoral fellowships for Lauren Sullivan.”