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Schistosomiasis Tests Being Developed by New FIND-Led Consortium

NEW YORK (360Dx) – The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics announced today a new schistosomiasis program to develop rapid diagnostic tests to detect circulating anodic antigen (CAA) in blood or urine. 

The program supports national control and/or elimination programs in areas where schistosomiasis is prevalent, FIND said. Joining the foundation in the effort are the World Health Organization, Mologic and Leiden University Medical Center. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is providing funding for initial work, and Merck & Co., through the Merck Global Health Institute, is providing additional funds.

The FIND-led consortium will develop RDTs for the diagnosis of schistosomiasis, which is caused by parasitic worms carried by freshwater snails. People become infected when they come in contact with water infested with worm larvae. More than 206 million people across 78 tropical and subtropical countries are affected by schistosomiasis, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, FIND said. Untreated, the infection can result in progressive organ damage, leading to chronic illness, and ultimately death.

WHO guidelines recommend examination of stool or urine samples by microscopy to detect worm eggs, a process that calls for highly trained microscopists and several days of analysis of multiple samples.

CAA is continually secreted by living schistosomes, and a laboratory-developed test for detecting CAA is currently available, but it requires complex sample processing steps and a reader for detection, FIND said.

To overcome the challenges of schistosomiasis diagnosis, the consortium is developing two RDTs. One would provide data to estimate the prevalence and intensity of infection in support of ongoing schistosomiasis control programs. The test would also support the "update of guidelines on routine use of RDTs for schistosomiasis," FIND said.

A second test is being developed with higher sensitivity to identify low infection intensities and would support schistosomiasis elimination efforts.

"The new diagnostic technologies will be a huge step forward, but to achieve real impact, their use cannot be confined to labs," Joseph Ndung'u, head of Neglected Tropical Diseases at FIND, said in a statement. "The RDT format will allow testing in community settings and enable essential surveillance and disease tracking."