Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of infections that most commonly plague extremely poor and disadvantaged people living in remote rural areas, urban slums, and places of political conflict. NTDs adversely affect child development, pregnancy, and worker productivity, and often keep people from escaping extreme poverty.
Three NTDs are caused by parasitic protozoa of the order Kinetoplastida. These include Chagas’ disease (Trypanosoma cruzi), Leishmaniasis (Leishmania spp.), and African Sleeping Sickness (Trypanosoma brucei).
SRI is working to develop a point-of-care diagnostic platform capable of detecting these diseases at an early stage, since early detection leads to better treatment outcomes. Existing diagnostic methods can be slow and expensive, and require technical expertise that is impractical in a field setting. SRI aims to provide a low-cost, low-technology solution that can be practically implemented in the developing world.
SRI's approach involves the use of a small molecule probe to detect a metabolite specific to the parasite. This metabolite is critical for the parasite's survival but is not found in humans. When the metabolite is absent, the probe is colorless in the presence of ultraviolet light. However, when the metabolite binds the probe, the resulting molecule shines bright green under an ultraviolet lamp, providing a diagnostic response.
Ultimately, this new diagnostic tool could dramatically decrease the time, cost, and technical expertise needed to accurately diagnose acute infections. The result would be safer and more effective strategies for the treatment and control of these neglected diseases across the globe.