Chagas Disease affects about 6–8 million people worldwide1 but less than 1% of the cases are diagnosed .
A new study appearing in the October issue of Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group), bolsters prospects of introducing an easy-to-use diagnostic test for Chagas Disease. Chagas is a killer disease that affects up to 8 million people living in some of the poorest areas of Latin America and is increasingly becoming a global health threat. The disease is transmitted via a ‘kissing bug’ that carries the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Left untreated, the parasitic infection can permanently damage the heart, nervous system or intestines and lead to life-long disability and death.
The cost and accessibility of testing for this disease are a major problem but now a breakthrough could change all that. Work by six leading research institutions around the world, including University of Kent, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, and the charity TroZonX17, provides new hope that the availability of widespread, inexpensive testing will be possible and that it will increase the levels of early diagnosis and treatment.
Early symptoms of Chagas disease are mild, which makes detection difficult without a diagnostic test; the World Health Organisation estimates that as few as one per cent of cases are detected. Existing tests are expensive, and no existing test can detect all strains of the parasite. They tend to vary by region. Co-author Professor Michael A. Miles from LSHTM, with collaborators in the Americas and Europe, pioneered identification of all six distinct lineages of T. cruzi
“In the paper, we demonstrate the first blood or antibody test that is able to detect, and distinguish between, the different genetic strains of T.cruzi,” explains, one of the authors and TroZonX17 CEO, Barrie Rooney. As an associate lecturer at the University of Kent Dr. Rooney carried out part of the work in the lab of Prof. Mark Smales, School of Biosciences. The Smales lab is world-leading in the development of systems for generating complex glycoproteins using mammalian cells. The lab’s current efforts are focussed on Covid-19 vaccine and diagnostic development.
Similar to the various colour-coatings found on Smarties and M&Ms, slightly different sugars (or glycoproteins) decorate the surface of the various wild-type strains of the T.cruzi parasite. “We made synthetic, glycosylated TX biomarkers that mimicked the different T.cruzi glycoproteins and tested them on a bank of infected blood samples taken from people living in areas throughout Central and South America.” Having a single test that detects and distinguishes the six different strains would simplify the disease diagnosis, and, the test would pave the way for future research on the relationship between the strains and disease prognosis. Current WHO standards require conducting two tests.
The technique used in the study could also be applicable to a wide range of other diseases, according to co-author Professor Stuart Haslam, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London: “Our work clearly shows the importance of the glycosylation of the synthetic antigens used in Chagas disease diagnostics. This is an important lesson for improving diagnostics for other infectious diseases, including COVID-19.”
TroZonX17 will now proceed to use the TX biomarkers to make an easy to use, affordable diagnostic antibody test for Chagas disease that would facilitate widespread access to diagnosis, even in very remote locations.
TroZonX17, is a non profit, research-driven organisation, developing affordable, easy-to-use diagnostic tests to detect many infectious neglected tropical diseases. In addition to being specific and sensitive, diagnostic tests developed for neglected diseases need to be accessible in limited resources settings. TroZonX17’s non-profit status eliminates the need to generate capital for investors and enables the research organisation to develop and manufacture tests that are inexpensive and convenient to use. TroZonX17.com
Imperial College London is one of the world’s leading universities. The College’s 17,000 students and 8,000 staff are expanding the frontiers of knowledge in science, medicine, engineering and business, and translating their discoveries into benefits for our society. Imperial is the UK’s most international university, according to Times Higher Education, with academic ties to more than 150 countries. Reuters named the College as the UK’s most innovative university because of its exceptional entrepreneurial culture and ties to industry. www.imperial.ac.uk
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is renowned for its research, postgraduate studies and continuing education in public and global health. We have an annual research income of more than £180 million and are one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK. www.lshtm.ac.uk
University of Kent Biosciences carry out internationally acclaimed research which promotes the understanding of human diseases and how living systems can be of benefit to human society. We currently have over 20 research groups and attract funding from sponsors including Horizon2020, the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, the Gates Foundation and UK research councils. We also have joint projects with a wide range of companies, research institutes, other universities and the NHS. www.kent.ac.uk