Correlates of immune exacerbations in leprosy.
Leprosy is still a considerable health threat in pockets of several low and middle income countries worldwide where intense transmission is witnessed, and often results in irreversible disabilities and deformities due to delayed- or misdiagnosis. Early detection of leprosy represents a substantial hurdle in present-day leprosy health care. The dearth of timely diagnosis has, however, particularly severe consequences in the case of inflammatory episodes, designated leprosy reactions, which represent the major cause of leprosy-associated irreversible neuropathy. There is currently no accurate, routine diagnostic test to reliably detect leprosy reactions, or to predict which patients will develop these immunological exacerbations. Identification of host biomarkers for leprosy reactions, particularly if correlating with early onset prior to development of clinical symptoms, will allow timely interventions that contribute to decreased morbidity. Development of a point-of-care (POC) test based on such correlates would be a definite game changer in leprosy health care. In this review, proteomic-, transcriptomic and metabolomic research strategies aiming at identification of host biomarker-based correlates of leprosy reactions are discussed, next to external factors associated with occurrence of these episodes. The vast diversity in research strategies combined with the variability in patient- and control cohorts argues for harmonisation of biomarker discovery studies with geographically overarching study sites. This will improve identification of specific correlates associated with risk of these damaging inflammatory episodes in leprosy and subsequent application to rapid field tests.