Scientists from the Nairobi-based International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) said they have developed an easy method to diagnose trypanosomosis, a disease that ravages millions of animals across Africa annually.
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The new method is rapid, affordable and efficient in diagnosing the disease, which is caused by tsetse flies and is of great economic importance as it kills both livestock and wild animals.
According to the ICIPE scientists, they have identified biomarkers in the urine of cows, which indicate with certainty the presence of trypanosome infection, even at low levels that would not be detectable through microscopy. Using this knowledge, they have developed a process for biomarker-based diagnosis of African animal trypanosomosis.
"As a result, through a simple urine test, which can be administered even by livestock keepers, it is possible to confirm whether an animal has the disease," explained Merid Getahun, Research Scientist at ICIPE and the leader of the study.
Getahun said they identified two classes of compounds in the urine of cows, which are specifically affected by trypanosome infections. "Therefore, these two classes of compounds are predictive biomarkers of African animal trypanosomosis," Getahun said.
The new method is specific to trypanosome infections, as it is negative on animals suffering from other ailments with symptoms similar to African animal trypanosomosis.
Daniel Masiga, ICIPE's Principal Research Scientist, and Head of Human and Animal Health said the biomarker-based diagnosis can be translated into a ready-to-use, inclusive innovation.
"For example, the reagent and activator can be packaged into a dipstick that can be easily applied to a urine sample. This would empower livestock keepers to make evidence-based decisions on the health of their animals," said the scientist.
Over the years, one of the main challenges in tackling the disease has been diagnostic strategies, currently which include microscopic examinations and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are costly and thus inaccessible to livestock keepers.
Segenet Kelemu, ICIPE Director General, said the diagnostic tool for African animal trypanosomosis is an innovation that is not only effective but would also be accessible and affordable to all segments of society, transforming many communities.
At least three million cattle succumb to African animal trypanosomosis, a debilitating disease of livestock that is caused by trypanosome parasites, which are mainly transmitted by tsetse flies.
Known as nagana in cattle, goats and sheep, and as surra in camels, the disease symptoms include anemia, fever, swelling of the lymph nodes and decreased appetite; leading to weight loss, lethargy abortions, a suppressed immune system and increased chances of concurrent infections.
Trypanosomosis causes direct and indirect losses of approximately 4.75 billion U.S. dollars per year in the continent, according to the ICIPE. ■