News

CC Licensed Test for African Sleeping Sickness

Cameron Parkins, March 7th, 2008

This came through our RSS readers this week via Boing Boing and is really quite amazing, showing the power CC licenses can have in advancing positive results outside of culture and technology (the findings are released online, along with detailed instructions, under a CC BY license):

Australian scientists have developed a blood test for African sleeping sickness that does not require the fancy equipment found in upscale medical labs. Even better, they made the details of their work available for free by publishing a paper in the Feb. 6 issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, which operates under a Creative Commons license.

Zablon Njiru and Andrew Thompson of Murdoch University led a team that developed the elegantly simple way to check for trypanosomes — protozoan parasites that are sometimes carried by tsetse flies.

To catch an infection in the earliest stages, when it is most treatable, technicians must look for a very small number of parasites in a sea of body fluids. That is not an easy thing to do, but there is a trick to make it easier: By mixing the liquid sample with a cocktail of molecules that can copy trypanosome DNA, they can make the serum resistance associated gene, a signpost of the disease, stand out — transforming each test into a manageable task.

Instead of using the polymerase chain reaction, which amplifies the microbe DNA with the aid of an expensive instrument called a thermocycler, the researchers employed another gene multiplying technique called loop-mediated isothermal amplification. It requires little more than a warm water bath and a few chemicals. After that procedure, which takes less than a half hour, the scientists can simply add some SYBR green dye and watch the brew change color if it contains a boatload of duplicated genetic material from the pathogen.

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