Development of immunodiagnostic tests for leprosy: from biomarker discovery to application in endemic areas
Leprosy is an infectious disease that affects peripheral nerves and can lead to severe lifelong disabilities. Despite the availability of an effective cure, a fairly stable number of about 200,000 new leprosy patients per year has been reported since 2010. This stagnation shows that the transmission of the mycobacteria that cause leprosy, Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis, is still taking place. Timely diagnosis of leprosy patients is therefore vital, so that the time frame in which a person is contagious is shortened, but also irreversible nerve damage and leprosy-associated disabilities can be prevented. However, tools that confirm the diagnosis of leprosy are not yet available. This thesis investigated which factors in blood (the so-called biomarkers) can help to diagnose leprosy. The clinical signs of leprosy have a spectral character and are influenced by the immune response of the host. A combination of biomarkers is described that is able to identify patients with a lot of bacteria (multibacillary) as well as the more difficult to diagnose patients with few bacteria (paucibacillary). Subsequently, these biomarkers have been implemented in user-friendly lateral flow assays, which have been extensively validated in leprosy endemic areas.