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Scripps Research scientists develop novel test that identifies river blindness
Date:10/6/2010

near fast moving rivers. When the flies bite a human host, O. volvulus larvae, called microfilariae, eventually spread throughout the body. The worms, which congregate in subcutaneous nodules, trigger an immune response that causes acute dermatitis and, if left untreated, tissue destruction that can lead to blindness.

The drug ivermectin, manufactured by Merck and distributed free in affected areas, effectively kills the larvae in most cases, and has served as the principal means of onchocerciasis control. Ivermectin must be taken twice yearly over a period of 15 to 20 years the life span of the worms.

Even with drug treatment, however, the disease takes a heavy toll.

"The number of those blinded by the disease who tend to live in areas where there is inadequate treatment is estimated to be around a quarter million people," says Scripps Research Assistant Professor Tobin Dickerson, Ph.D., one of the co-authors of the new study. "Most are unable to work and it's not uncommon to see an older person being led by a young child who acts comparable to a seeing-eye dog. Such children miss out on their own childhoods, often being pulled out of school to help an adult. In addition, fertile land near rivers that otherwise would be used for farming is often abandoned. Onchocerciasis is an insidious disease that affects both the individual and society."

The New Diagnostic Tool

To develop the test, the Scripps Research scientists used a highly sophisticated process known as metabolomics, the systematic study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind, in other words of their small-molecule metabolite profiles. Metabolic profiling can give a quick snapshot of the physiology of an organism.

The use of metabolomics on an African sample set comprised of 73 serum and plasma samples revealed 14 biomarkers that showed excellent discrimination between O. volvulus-positive and negative individual
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Contact: Mika Ono
mikaono@scripps.edu
858-784-2052
Scripps Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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