May 29, 2009
Scientists at the Burnet Institute, Australia's leading medical research and public health institute focused on infectious diseases, have developed a prototype low-cost HIV monitoring test designed for field use in remote settings. The new test enables patients at the point of care to find out within 30 minutes if they should begin antiretroviral treatment, without any laboratory equipment being required.
CD4+ T-cells are critical for a healthy functioning immune system and are slowly destroyed during the course of HIV infection. When the numbers of CD4+ T-cells in a person's blood decrease to a critical level, this makes them increasingly vulnerable to illness. Healthcare workers rely on a CD4 count when making decisions about when HIV-positive patients should begin antiretroviral therapy. The new test enables patients to find out within 30 minutes if they should begin therapy.
The majority of patients in developing countries start antiretroviral therapy based on symptoms alone. Research shows that if HIV patients wait until they are sick to start treatment, they have a much poorer outcome than if treatment were started based on a CD4 count.
The majority of patients in the developing world do not currently have access to CD4 testing because it is expensive, and relies on sophisticated laboratory testing requiring specially trained operators. Where testing facilities exist, it is often too difficult for people in rural areas to access them and it can take weeks to obtain results. Currently 33 million people globally have been diagnosed with HIV, many of them in resource poor countries.
Having completed the first phase of trials, the prototype test developed by Burnet's scientists, in collaboration with colleagues at Rush University Medical Centre, Chicago and Duke University, North Carolina) will undergo further validation and clinical studies to ensure the assay offers reliable and reproducible results.
The Burnet Institute was awarded a grant by The CD4 Initiative (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) for the development of a low cost, rapid point-of-care CD4+ T-cell test, specifically designed for field use in remote settings. Professor Suzanne Crowe, Associate Professor David Anderson and senior scientist Mary Garcia lead a team at Burnet with expertise in diagnostic test development.
Professor Brendan Crabb, Director and CEO of the Burnet Institute said, "I am very proud to announce the Burnet Institute's creation of the CD4 rapid test that has the potential for such a hugely positive impact on people with living with HIV across the world.
"Today the Burnet Institute unveils its new logo that symbolises our focus on global health. The CD4 test, created specifically for use in the field is an excellent example of our unique approach; combining innovative medical research with practical public health action."