News

Funding boost for fight against syphilis

Angus Morgan

20 November, 2014

The global fight against syphilis and the opportunity for improved health outcomes for hundreds of thousands of newborns has received a significant boost through a special grant for Burnet research.

The funding, managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), will support the development of a point-of-care (POC) test, which, for the first time, will quickly and accurately diagnose active syphilis and allow for immediate treatment at the point of care.

Congenital syphilis affects more newborns than any other infection including HIV or tetanus, with many infants dying in the first year of life.

Every year maternal syphilis infection contributes to more than 650,000 perinatal deaths worldwide, and an estimated 25 percent of all stillbirths.

While treatment of syphilis is relatively simple and inexpensive, the diagnosis requires the taking of blood samples and laboratory testing by trained staff.

The development of a test to diagnose active syphilis at the point of care will expedite the treatment process resulting in significant improvements in maternal and child health through prevention of stillbirths and neonatal morbidity and mortality.

The POC test will be simple to use, instrument-free and will require only a finger-prick sample of blood, with results available within 30 minutes.

Importantly, it will be a low-cost, disposable test requiring minimal training and readily applicable to primary health care facilities.

Burnet Deputy Director and Head of Business Development, Innovation and Research, Associate Professor David Anderson, said the test is most needed in the Pacific, throughout Africa, South America and much of Asia.

“In Australia and in most of China there’s good laboratory networks, all pregnant women are screened, so there is no problem,” said Associate Professor Anderson.

“But diagnosing syphilis properly requires two separate tests at the moment and only one of those is suitable for us at the point of care in developing world settings.

“So we’re incorporating a solution that provides both the screening and the confirmation tests in a single point-of-care device.”

The funding body - Saving Lives at Birth - comprises USAID, the Government of Norway, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the UK Government.

Collaborating partners are the National Center for Sexually Transmitted Disease Control, Nanjing, China (Prof Xiang-Shen Chen, Dr Yue-Pin Yin), International Centre for Reproductive Health, Mombasa, Kenya (Dr Peter Gichangi), and Omega Diagnostics Ltd, UK, (Andrew Shepherd).

Associate Professor Anderson said a working prototype is expected to be ready by late 2015 with validation studies to be conducted over the following 12 months.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Associate Professor David Anderson

Deputy Director (Partnerships), Burnet Institute; Co-Head, Global Health Diagnostics Development

Telephone

+61392822239

Email

david.anderson@burnet.edu.au

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