During the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, scientists from SRI International discussed the development of a simple, inexpensive 3 in 1 test to diagnose three related parasitic species that cause the following diseases; Chaga’s disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.

These parasites cause tens of thousands of deaths and innumerable amount of suffering throughout many parts of the developing world.

A major goal of the new test method according to Ellen Beaulieu, Ph.D., a medicinal chemist at SRI, is to provide cheap and simple early diagnosis of these parasites which would ultimately improve the treatment options.

The late stage disease of these three parasites typically requires the use of very toxic drugs with potentially fatal side effects.

So how will this testing method work?

It uses of a small molecule sensor dye that can detect a metabolite specific to the parasites that cause the three diseases: Chagas, Leishmaniasis, and African Sleeping Sickness. This detectable metabolite is critical for the parasites’ survival and is not found in humans.

The initial tests performed show that the dye detects the parasite marker which would glow in UV light using a handheld lamp.

The ultimate goal is to develop a paper strip, much like a urine dipstick where they could be used in rural and remote areas where all that would be required is dipping the strip in a drop of blood and exposing it to UV light.