Publications & Reports

Improving the coverage and accuracy of syphilis testing: The development of a novel rapid, point-of-care test for confirmatory testing of active syphilis infection and its early evaluation in China and South Africa.

Pham MD, Wise A, Garcia ML, Van H, Zheng S, Mohamed Y, Han Y, Wei WH, Yin YP, Chen XS, Dimech W, Braniff S, Technau KG, Luchters S, Anderson DA
Burnet Institute, 85 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Victoria 3004, Australia.


Background: Current point-of-care tests (POCT) for syphilis, based on the detection of Treponema pallidum (TP) total antibodies, have limited capacity in distinguishing between active and past/treated syphilis. We report the development and early evaluation of a new prototype POCT based on the detection of TP-IgA antibodies, a novel biomarker for active syphilis. Methods: The TP-IgA POCT (index test) was developed in response to the World Health Organisation (WHO) target product profile (TPP) for a POCT for confirmatory syphilis testing. Two sub-studies were conducted consecutively using 458 pre-characterised stored plasma samples in China (sub-study one, addressing the criteria for the WHO TPP), and 503 venous blood samples collected from pregnant/postpartum women in South Africa (sub-study two, addressing potential clinical utility). Performance of the index test was assessed against standard laboratory-based serology using a combination of treponemal (TPHA) and non-treponemal (rapid plasma reagin [RPR]) tests. Findings: In sub-study one, the index test demonstrated 96.1% (95%CI=91.7%-98.5%) sensitivity and 84.7% (95%CI=80.15-88.6%) specificity for identification of active syphilis (TPHA positive, RPR positive). It correctly identified 71% (107/150) samples of past-treated syphilis (TPHA positive, RPR negative). In sub-study two, the index test achieved 100% (95%CI=59%-100%) sensitivity for active syphilis and correctly identified all nine women with past syphilis. Interpretation: The TP-IgA POCT has met the WHO TPP for a POCT for diagnosis of active syphilis and demonstrated its potential utility in a clinical setting. Future studies are warranted to evaluate field performance of the final manufactured test. Funding: Saving Lives at Birth: Grand Challenge for Development, Thrasher Research Fund, and the Victorian Government Operational Infrastructure Scheme.

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  • Journal: EClinicalMedicine
  • Published: 01/07/2020
  • Volume: 24
  • Pagination: 100440