Scripps scientists spot tropical disease marker in urine

Scientists found a molecular clue in their search for ways to wipe out one of the most devastating tropical diseases on earth. Known as river blindness, Onchocerciasis is a leading cause of vision loss, especially in the developing world. Yet the disease leaves behind a biomarker in the urine of patients that could easily identify those in need of treatment.

The disease has been on the radar of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization in recent years, with new funding for research to eradicate Onchocerciasis and other neglected tropical diseases. Primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, river-dwelling blackflies pass the infectious O. volvulus worms to humans, in which they spread to the eyes and cause inflammation that can trigger blindness.

At Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, scientists found that levels of a metabolite called N-acetyltyramine-O, beta-glucuronide were four to 6 times higher in the urine of African patients with active infections than those without active infections, Scripps reported. The scientists reported their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kim Janda, Director, Worm Institute for Research & Medicine

They hope that the marker could be used in a simple dipstick test, similar to a home pregnancy test. Such a test could used outside of hospitals and without diagnostics labs that perform current tests for the infection.

"There has been a need for an inexpensive, non-invasive test that can discriminate between active and non-active river blindness infections during treatment campaigns," stated Kim Janda, a chemistry professor and director of the Worm Institute of Research and Medicine at Scripps. "We think that this new biomarker can be the basis for such a test."

- here's the release