New test hastens diagnosis for Cryptococcosis, top cause of HIV-related deaths in developing countries
A new, rapid blood test that could lead to early diagnosis and potentially save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people stricken with fungal meningitis, a leading cause of AIDS-related deaths in developing countries, is getting closer to market with a recent collaboration between the University of Nevada, Reno and Immuno-Mycologics (IMMY) in Oklahoma.
"The ability to quickly identify yeast infection in patients is expected to help in significantly reducing cryptococcal meningitis deaths in resource-limited countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa," said Tom Kozel, professor of microbiology at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. "Cryptococcosis is a rare form of meningitis among otherwise healthy individuals, but an estimated 600,000 lives are lost to this infection each year in patients with AIDS. Many of these lives could be saved through early diagnosis."
If successful, the new field test to detect cryptococcal antigen will use a drop of blood from a finger-stick or a urine sample to immediately identify the presence of the disease so treatment can begin instantly, rather than having to wait for results to be processed at a lab. The point-of-care product is the result of a collaboration between Kozel and Sean Bauman, president and CEO of IMMY. The product is being developed under a licensing agreement established through the University's Technology Transfer Office and IMMY.
"We developed several antibodies to the fungus with the support of research funded by the National Institutes of Health," Kozel said. "IMMY needed an antibody that worked well with their idea for this new noninvasive procedure to introduce in developing countries where deaths are skyrocketing from HIV-related cryptococcal meningitis. We found fairly quickly that one of ours works very well."
Kozel developed the antibody used for the Cryptococcus test in his lab at the University of Nevada, Reno. Bauman commercialized the technology to make it available at low cost to patients in developing countries through IMMY, a market leader in diagnostics for fungal infections.
"One of the stipulations in our agreement for the licensing of the product with IMMY is to have this crucial test available at low cost," Ryan Heck, director of the University's Technology Transfer Office, said. "Dr. Bauman had already begun to make this happen on several avenues."
IMMY is using the antibody now for testing in Africa, but only through the traditional, time-consuming and expensive methods of venipuncture (blood draw) or spinal tap for cerebrospinal fluid. The team is working to get additional funding for studies needed to further develop and validate the new point-of-care product to make it readily available to patients.