New test could speed leprosy diagnosis and treatment
February 25, 2013 -- A new test for leprosy—faster and more inexpensive than current diagnostics—offers hope that cases of the disease can be found and cured before permanent disability or disfigurement sets in. The test was developed by the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) in Seattle. Brazil’s drug-regulatory agency registered it last month, and Brazilian diagnostics company OrangeLife will manufacture it on the understanding that the price will be $1 or less.
The new test gives results in under 10 minutes and is simpler than the current diagnostic method of cutting open nodules, often in the earlobe, and looking for the bacteria under a microscope. “It works like a pregnancy test and requires just one drop of blood,” said Malcolm Duthie, who led the test’s development at IDRI. “I can teach anyone to use it.”
Duthie added that the test is expected to detect infections as much as one year before symptoms appear. About 250,000 cases of leprosy are recorded each year worldwide. Brazil, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are among the hardest-hit countries. The United States has 150 to 250 new diagnoses each year.