Researchers at the Cambridge University’s Department of Haematology have demonstrated a new very sensitive and rapid easy-to-use test for trachoma, an eye infection, endemic in many parts of the world. The infection, easily treated by azithromycin, is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. The disease is thought to be the leading infectious cause of blindness in the infected parts of the world. Here’s how Cambridge describes the work of its researchers:
In a trial involving over 600 Masai children living in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, the assay proved to be more than twice as effective in detecting trachoma than traditional analysis. It took just one hour to train local health workers to carry out the tests which were then evaluated in a village ‘office’ without electricity or running water, using tables and chairs as makeshift lab benches. The results are published in this week’s edition of The Lancet…
The wafer-thin, 8cm long trachoma dipstick is an adaptation of the award-winning ‘FirstBurst’ diagnostic test to detect the sexually-transmitted form of Chlamydia, which is highly contagious (resulting in more than 90m new cases every year) and can lead to infertility in women.
Both tests were developed by a team working at Cambridge University led by Dr Helen Lee with funding from the Wellcome Trust. Dr. Lee has set-up Diagnostics for the Real World, a spinout company based on the technologies developed at Cambridge. The goal of the company is to improve health in resource-poor settings by developing badly needed diagnostic tests for neglected diseases.
Claude-Edouard Michel, one of the leaders of the programme, who works with Dr Lee in Cambridge’s Diagnostics Development Unit, said: “We have shown this test can work in the most difficult circumstances without even the most basic of laboratory equipment.”
Professor Mabey, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The test is an important advance in the fight against trachoma. At present, the amount of azithromycin pledged by the manufacturer, Pfizer, will not be sufficient to treat everyone living in endemic communities. Yet, much of the drug is wasted in treating communities which no longer need it.
“The new test will enable programme managers to find out for themselves which communities still harbour the infection and thus to focus treatment on the communities which really need it.”