New Test Could Help Diagnose Hepatitis B in Resource-Limited Countries

A new, inexpensive diagnostic test can help identify patients who require immediate treatment for hepatitis B virus across Africa.

A newly-developed accurate and inexpensive diagnostic score may help identify thousands of patients with hepatitis B virus (HBV) who require immediate treatment in resource-limited countries, according to a new study.

Current methods to assess treatment eligibility for HBV can be limited and costly in countries that lack appropriate resources. The researchers aimed to develop a simple, yet accurate diagnostic tool that could easily identify patients in need of HBV treatment in some of Africa’s poorest regions.

Researchers used clinical data from more than 800 patients with HBV who had been tested through the Prevention of Liver Fibrosis and Cancer in Africa (PROLIFICA) program to develop the new diagnostic test, called TREAT-B.

According to the researchers, the score consists of 2 simple blood tests. One test measures the presence of antigens—proteins produced by the virus—and another measures enzymes produced by the liver in response.

The test was found to accurately identify patients with HBV who required treatment in 85% of cases and could accurately identify those who do not need treatment in 77% of cases, according to the study.

Not only was the score found to be as accurate as existing methods for identifying patients in need of treatment, but it only cost $20 compared with $100 to $500 for current tests.

The researchers noted that the score is more accessible for patients, as many of the existing methods require resources and laboratories that are not always accessible in sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 80 million individuals are infected with HBV.

Importantly, the method worked at all stages of the disease, lending its ability to screen and diagnose individuals at early stages of liver disease without symptoms.

According to the researchers, the test could also be developed to be implemented as a finger-prick test for quicker results.

“These results show that this simple and inexpensive test could be an accurate way to diagnose patients in need of hepatitis B treatment in countries with limited resources,” Maud Lemoine, MD, PhD, co-author of the study, said in a press release.

Further research using larger studies is needed to solidify the results but, if successful, the new method could be used to widely identify individuals in need of life-saving treatment, the researchers concluded.

References

Shimakawa Y, Njie R, Ndow G, et al. Development of a simple score based on HBeAg and ALT for selecting patients for HBV treatment in Africa. Journal of Hepatology. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2018.05.024

New test could diagnose hepatitis B patients in need of treatment across Africa [news release]. Imperial’s website. http://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/187009/new-test-could-diagnose-hepatitis-patients/. Accessed July 2, 2018.