In the light of the fast-spreading Lassa fever virus in Nigeria, a major feat has been achieved with the development of a 10-minutes Lassa Fever Test Kit known as Pan-Lassa Rapid Diagnostics Test (PL RDT), which enables the testing of urine, faeces and blood samples of humans or multmamelar rats for Lassa fever in 10 minutes. This great achievement was recorded by the Redeemer’s University, (RUN), Ede, Osun State.
The discovery also involves the development of molecules that inhibits the virus and a potential vaccine against the virus. This is one of the findings of the University’s World-Bank funded African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID).
Speaking at the at the unveiling of the new research discovery on Lassa Fever over the weekend at the university’s Senate Chambers, the Vice Chancellor of the Private University, Professor Debo Adeyewa, nevertheless, faulted the leadership of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), over its rules that ensures that its funds are inaccessible to private universities, stating that it is a minus for Nigeria, especially in the areas of research and development.
The Professor who drew attention to this anomaly said the Redeemer’s University has been on the front line of researches and discoveries, but lamented that the scarcity of funds and the inability of the institution to benefit from TETFund, makes it impossible to commercialize its research breakthroughs on Ebola and Lassa Fever virus. In the words of Prof. Debo;
“TETFund pumps a lot of money into public universities for physical structures. But the fact remains that once researches and development are not prioritized, nothing will come out of it.
“Without funds from TETFund, the Redeemer’s University is doing exploit in the area of researches and development. This means we can do greater exploits if the federal government allows TETFund to make its intervention funds available to private universities. Our university made new discoveries when Ebola was raging and now we have also made new discovery on Lassa fever virus.”
Throwing more light on the research breakthrough, Prof. Christian Happi, the Director of ACEGID, RUN,said:
“In 2014, we developed and tested the first generation of Lassa fever rapid diagnostics test (RDT). Although, the test showed great potential in the field, its sensitivity was low compared to the gold standard, Positive Reverse Transcription (PCR), because the test could not pick up all the three lineages of the Lassa virus circulating in Nigeria. We went back to work to improve on the RDTs, and in January 2016, we successfully developed a Pan-Lassa fever test that is highly sensitive and specific.”
Prof. Happi who was a member of a group that in 2008, conducted the first Lassa fever Positive Reverse Transcription (PCR) diagnosis in Nigeria, after 39 years of its discovery in the city of Lassa in 1969, also pointed out that it is an established fact that Ribavirin presently in use for the treatment of Lassa fever was not intended for the disease and as a result, it is effective only when administered in the early phase of the infection.
According to him,
“This prompted us to take advantage of our current knowledge of genomics technology to have better insight into the virus genome and eventually identify potential drug targets. Using the next generation sequencing, we successfully sequenced hundreds of Lassa fever viruses, thereby generating the largest catalog of Lassa fever virus sequenced in the world.
“This in turn resulted to the identification of new epitopes in the virus. In addition, we were able to determine the ancient origins, evolution and transmission of the Lassa virus.”
As the professor said, the tale of the Lassa fever virus has its genesis from present day Nigeria, 1, 060 years ago and spread out of Nigeria 400 years ago to other West African countries.
“A comparison between the Lassa fever and Ebola viruses showed that Lassa fever is less adapted and efficient for human-to-human transmission unlike the Ebola virus, pointing out the fact why Lassa fever outbreaks are less disastrous than Ebola.”
Furthermore, according to the report by National Mirror, Professor Happi revealed that the Yoruba tribe has an immunity against the virus by virtue of their genes, stating emphatically that the few cases of Lassa fever recorded among the Yorubas are ‘imported’. The reason for this is yet to be known as he is still researching into it.
In his words;
“We have found a human gene called “Large” in the Yoruba of Southwest Nigeria that may be associated with protection to the virus. We have hypothesized the potential mechanisms of protection and believe that this could be key to the future Lassa fever vaccine.”