News / Health

Researchers Develop Simple Test for River Blindness

Jessica Berman
Diagnosing the tropical parasitic illness Onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, might soon be as easy as testing a urine sample. Such a simple test would permit more effective diagnosis and treatment of a disease that now afflicts nearly 18 million people around the world.

People call Onchocerciasis "river blindness" because it’s caused by the bite of a parasitic-worm-infected black fly that lives near rivers. The illness is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, although it also exists in parts of Yemen and in Central and South America.

The river blindness parasite has an active and inactive phase, making it difficult to treat the disease.  During its active phase, the female worm produces millions of microscopic eggs that migrate to different tissues throughout the body. Infection of the eyes can lead to blindness.

The disease is usually treated with the antiparasitic agent Ivermectin, which lowers the number of eggs produced by the worm, and an antibiotic, doxycycline, which sterilizes it.  

But according to Daniel Globisch, a researcher at Scripps Research Institute in California, it is difficult to determine when the worm is active. That information would help health care providers know whether their treatment is effective or not. It would also reduce the risk that wasteful use of antibiotics might promote drug resistance in the river blindness parasite.

Currently, Globisch says, the only way is to be certain that the worm is active is to do a skin biopsy to look for signs of the parasite.

“This is very invasive and also painful and really uncomfortable for the people. And that’s why a non-invasive diagnostic is as important,” Globisch said.

Globisch and colleagues think they found one. They have identified a single biomarker produced by the worm - a chemical that sends signals from one nerve cell to another - that is present in the patient's urine during the active phase.

“The single marker is linked to the worm’s lifecycle. And that is why we believe this is the perfect marker to get a test,” Globisch said.

Globisch says the test would be inexpensive and portable. Infected individuals also suffer severe itching and the Scripps scientists are investigating treatments to ease that symptom for as long as patients with river blindness harbor the parasite.

An article on a urine test for river blindness is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid