The authorities of the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, say they have made some major breakthroughs on Lassa fever with the development of rapid diagnostic kits and drugs for the deadly virus.
The institution’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Debo Adeyewa, announced this at a briefing on Thursday at Ede.
According to Adeyewa, the team is also making progress in the development of Lassa fever vaccine with the identification of a gene called LARGE.
A research team led by the Director, World Bank Funded African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, at the university, Prof. Christian Happi, the VC added, produced the tools and the drugs.
Happi also regretted that despite the yearly outbreak of the virus, there was no laboratory confirmation due to lack of technical capacity to perform diagnosis in the country.
He stated that the first Lassa fever PCR-based diagnosis was made in Nigeria in 2008 which was 39 years after and this led to the establishment of the foremost centre of excellence of Lassa fever diagnosis and treatment in Nigeria and West Africa at Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Edo State.
Happi said, “Because PCR is highly skilled and expensive technology for diagnosis, we went on to develop a less complex and cheaper Lassa fever diagnostics. In 2014, we developed and tested the first generation of Lassa fever rapid diagnostic test.
“Now, we have successfully developed a pan-Lassa fever test that is highly sensitive and specific. A prototype has been produced.”
Happi stated that Ribavirin, currently in use to treat Lassa fever was only effective when given in the early phase of the infection.
This, he said, prompted him and his team to carry out further research.
“Furthermore, studying B-cell repertoire (immune response) from Lassa fever survivors, we have identified four neutralising antibodies that significantly inhibit the Lassa fever virus. This provides the first scientific evidence of immunotherapeutics ticker Lassa fever. These findings have been reviewed for publication in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Immunology,” he said.
Happi added that the research team was carrying out a research in the development of Lassa fever vaccine.
He added, “Using next generation sequencing approach, we have identified a signal of natural selection in human gene called LARGE in the Yoruba populations of the South-West of Nigeria that may be associated with protection to Lassa fever virus. We have hypothesised the potential mechanisms of protection and believe that this could be the key to the future Lassa fever vaccine.”
Meanwhile, the VC has urged the Tertiary Education Fund to provide funding for such a medical research.
According to him, this way the agency can truly assist in solving the challenges confronting the country.
Meanwhile, a 28-year-old lady has died of Lassa fever in Ogun State.
The Ogun State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Babatunde Ipaye, said that the young lady was the first to have died of the disease in the state.
Ipaye, who said this during a press conference held at Oke Mosan in Abeokuta on Thursday, said the victim had travelled to Ebonyi for a burial programme and returned to Ogun on January 15, and later started manifesting the symptoms of the viral disease.