Advancing early, rapid diagnosis of river blindness



The eye and skin infection known as onchocerciasis, or river blindness, affects more than 18 million people worldwide External link, mostly in rural African communities near streams and rivers. The disease is caused by the parasite Onchocerca volvulus, which is spread through the bite of an infected blackfly. The lack of a quick and inexpensive test to detect O. volvulus makes it difficult to track new infections and provide timely treatment.


During the early 1990s, IRP researcher Thomas Nutman, M.D. and collaborators identified Ov16, an O. volvulus protein that is abundant in the early stages of infection. The researchers found that antibodies against Ov16 can be detected in the blood of infected people up to one year before infection appears in the skin. This simple blood test showed promising results in initial field trials conducted in seven West African villages during late 1999 and early 2000.


In 2013, the investigators licensed the technology to the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health for the development of a rapid, noninvasive, and inexpensive diagnostic test that health care workers in resource-poor settings can use. By enabling early detection and treatment of river blindness, this test promises to aid efforts to eradicate the disease.


Lobos E, Weiss N, Karam M, Taylor HR, Ottesen EA, Nutman TB. (1991). An immunogenic Onchocerca volvulus antigen: a specific and early marker of infection. Science. 251(5001), 1603-5.

Weil GJ, Steel C, Liftis F, Li BW, Mearns G, Lobos E, Nutman TB. (2000). A rapid-format antibody card test for diagnosis of onchocerciasis. J Infect Dis. 182(6), 1796-9.

Lipner EM, Dembele N, Souleymane S, Alley WS, Prevots DR, Toe L, Boatin B, Weil GJ, Nutman TB. (2006). Field applicability of a rapid-format anti-Ov-16 antibody test for the assessment of onchocerciasis control measures in regions of endemicity. J Infect Dis. 194(2), 216-21.

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This page was last updated on Friday, August 11, 2023