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Egypt develops new hepatitis C test

3rd January 2012

A test that uses gold nanoparticles to diagnose hepatitis C has won a prize for the Egyptian research team that developed it.

MiddleEastMap1

Scientists hope the new, rapid test could form an inexpensive basis for screening programmes for the virus in people and blood banks.

Researchers led by Hassan Azzazy, chemistry chair at the American University in Cairo took home a US$10,000 prize at the Intel Global Challenge in California after they won third place for their work.

According to Azzazy, nanoparticles' unique properties make them promising tools for developing the next generation of diagnostic tests.

A phenomenon called surface plasmon resonance makes them change colour when they clump together from an intense red to ble.

In the hepatitis C test, a target agent binds to viral genetic material, drawing the nanoparticles together and turning the test solution blue.

Currently, it takes two tests costing around US$78 each, and three-to-four days of laboratory time to diagnose hepatitis C.

The new test costs around US$8 and takes just one hour to complete.

Even though it is made from gold tetrachloride, at US$260 per gram, one gram of the substance can process 10,000 hepatitis C tests.

Hepatitis C is particularly prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, where it has infected around 9.2 million people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In Egypt, the prevalence, at 14% for adults aged between 15 and 60 years, is even higher than the 1-2% found elsewhere in the region. Globally, the virus infects around 200 million people worldwide every year.

Cairo University haematology professor Hala Gabr welcomed the result, saying that early identification and treatment of hepatitis C patients was critical to reducing transmission of the disease.

She said a fast, cheap test would be a "great help."

However, her colleague Amr Abul-Fotouh, a lecturer in tropical medicine and hepatology said further tests would still be needed in the treatment and follow-up of patients who had already received a diagnosis.

The nanogold test will not be able to monitor quantities of the virus in patients' blood, which will still require a polymerase chain reaction test.

But he said the new test would be a very useful tool for screening blood banks, as around one in five Egyptians who give blood had tested positive for the virus.

Research team member Sherif Shawky said the technology could also be adapted for detecting other pathogens like tuberculosis, and for use as cancer biomarkers.

The team has set up a spin-off company, NanoDiagX, has been set up to develop bio-nanotechnology platforms for these purposes.


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