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Rapid test gets an A in Hepatitis B

19 May, 2010
World Hepatitis Day 2010 logo. Image credit: World Hepatitis Alliance

World Hepatitis Day 2010 logo

Today is World Hepatitis Day and there’s some timely good news afloat. The European Union has given regulatory approval for a new Hepatitis B test that could revolutionise diagnosis, and treatment, of the disease, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Hepatitis B virus is 100 times more infectious than HIV. The virus is spread through contact with infected blood or other body fluids including sexual contact. Although it rarely kills, infection can cause serious health problems and places a tremendous strain on healthcare resources.

Current diagnosis can take days or even weeks. But the new dipstick test, developed by Dr Helen Lee and colleagues from Diagnostics for the Real World, delivers an accurate diagnosis within 30 minutes.

The speed of the Hepatitis B Rapid Test could allow doctors to screen pregnant mothers and take steps to prevent them from passing the virus to their unborn baby. And the ability to screen blood donors before they give blood could help to cut transmission through infected transfusions.

There are also a multitude of factors that will benefit those in low- and middle-income countries. The test is simple enough to be used with minimal training and, because it can be done on the spot, it eschews the need to send samples away to labs – saving time, cost and reliance on skilled technicians and expensive equipment. Moreover, the test can survive hot conditions for months and is relatively inexpensive.

Considering that as many as 1 in 6 people carry the virus in Africa and China, the test has the potential to make a significant difference in the fight against Hepatitis B around the world.

The rollout will benefit from the knowledge and experience of Dr Lee, who has a good pedigree in developing successful diagnostics. Director of the Diagnostics Development Unit at the University of Cambridge, she chaired the Diagnostics Steering Committee of the World Health Organization for several years and launched a successful Chlamydia Rapid Test last year. Both that and the Hepatitis B Rapid Test were developed by Diagnostics for the Real World, the spinout company she helped establish in 2002. Expect more innovations from them in the near future.

For more information read the press release on the Wellcome Trust website.

Dr Helen Lee and her colleagues have received Technology Transfer funding from the Wellcome Trust to support their work.

Image credit: World Hepatitis Alliance
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