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Indian scientists invent rapid detection kit for kala-azar

Indian scientists have achieved a major breakthrough by developing a cost-effective diagnostic kit for the detection of kala-azar, a parasitic disease that afflicts about four lakh people in the country of whom 60,000 die every year. The kit takes just 10 minutes for detection without any surgical procedure and the results are 100 per cent accurate and specific.

The kit has been developed by the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in collaboration with the Department of Biotechnology. Surat-based Span Diagnostics is marketing it with the brand name "Signal-Ka."

"One kit costs just Rs 60-70. Its price, when supplied through the public healthcare system, will be even lesser," says Sarnam Singh, additional professor and head of clinical microbiology, AIIMS, who led the research team. "The best part is that one no longer needs to visit an operation theatre for diagnosis. Also, one gets the results quickly - in just 10 minutes."

Kala-azar, or black fever, is spread by the bite of the sandfly. About 15 lakh people around the world contract the disease of whom more than 2 lakh die every year. Ninety per cent of the cases are found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Sudan and the victims are mostly poor. The new diagnostic kit will be crucial in achieving India's aim to eradicate the disease by 2012.

The symptoms of kala-azar manifest three months after infection. But the kit detects the disease much before the symptoms show up. It is easy to use and can reach the remotest villages. It took 15 years and Rs30 lakh for Singh and his team to develop the kit. The diagnostic system is based on a unique recombinant protein ld-rKE16 developed by AIIMS.

The process and the product have been patented internationally, and the technology transferred to Span Diagnostics. The clinical trails were conducted at AIIMS, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and in Bihar.

Singh has five patents to his credit, including two on leishmaniasis, two on mycobacteria and one on toxoplasma diagnostics.


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