VCRC scientists develop innovative RT-PCR-based xenomonitoring test for filariasis
The Vector Control Research Centre (VCRC), a part of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has announced plans to repurpose its existing RT-PCR Covid testing facilities for monitoring vector-borne diseases. This initiative aims to gain a deeper understanding of the distribution of such diseases and assess the effectiveness of control and elimination programs.
Scientists at VCRC have made significant progress in the development of a simple and cost-effective RT-PCR-based xenomonitoring test for filariasis. This innovative test is currently being piloted in the Khurda district of Odisha, as well as in Cuddalore and Puducherry in Tamil Nadu.
Under the leadership of Dr. Ashwani Kumar, Director of VCRC, the Centre is now focusing on developing a multiplex RT-PCR test that can be used for various vector-borne diseases. This advancement in testing capabilities will enable more comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of these diseases.
Vector-borne diseases, including lymphatic filariasis, malaria, kala-azar, dengue, and chikungunya, pose significant public health challenges in India. Lymphatic filariasis alone is endemic in 328 districts, with millions of cases of lymphoedema and hydrocele reported in these areas. The implementation of elimination programs for these diseases requires regular monitoring to assess the impact of interventions.
Conventionally, monitoring is done by examining blood samples of individuals in endemic communities. However, this approach presents challenges in terms of skilled manpower, logistics, and ethical considerations. To overcome these limitations, VCRC has pioneered a molecular xeno monitoring technique that involves examining vectors (mosquitoes and sandflies) to indirectly measure disease transmission.
The molecular xeno monitoring technique utilizes RT-PCR technology to detect pathogens in a large number of mosquitoes, offering a higher throughput compared to traditional dissection and microscopic examination methods. This approach will significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of disease monitoring in elimination programs.
Dr. Kumar expressed his intention to submit a proposal for a network dedicated to this initiative to the ICMR. This collaborative network would contribute to the national program‘s efforts to eliminate vector-borne diseases by leveraging the existing infrastructure and expertise.
The availability of RT-PCR testing laboratories across the country, primarily established for Covid-19 testing, presents a unique opportunity to repurpose these facilities for vector-borne disease monitoring. The vast network of laboratories with the necessary infrastructure and skilled manpower will play a crucial role in combating these diseases.