Unimas developing rapid rabies test kit for human infection

Manyin (right) exchanges document with Wan Hashim, as David looks on.

By Geryl Ogilvy

KUCHING, July 4: Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) is working on a rapid rabies test kit for human infection and hopes to commercialise it within the next two years.

The university signed an agreement with Sarawak Research and Development Council (SRDC) here today to conduct research on the quick diagnosis of rabies in Sarawak, where the council granted RM500,000 to facilitate the studies.

The project aims to develop an on-site laboratory diagnostic method that is suitable for use at hospitals and clinics in Sarawak, so that laboratory diagnostic capacity on rabies infection can be established locally.

“We started our research two years ago, following the rabies outbreak in Sarawak. This project should take another two years. Within this time frame, we hope to develop, validate and carry out field tests.

“The test kit will help to detect the virus (on human infection) more accurately.

“We are working to develop better test results and looking into the possibility that the test can be adopted nationally,” Unimas Institute of Health and Community Medicine principal investigator Prof Dr David Perera told reporters at the agreement signing ceremony at the LCDA Tower.

Minister of Education, Science and Technological Research Datuk Seri Michael Manyin Jawong and Unimas deputy vice-chancellor (Research and Innovation) Prof Dr Wan Hashim Wan Ibrahim were present.

When asked on the availability of such test kits worldwide, David said the rabies virus, being geographically-centric, could be different in other parts of the world. As such, test kits used in other regions might not be as sensitive or effective when used locally.

He added that the main importance now is the ability to carry out mass screenings quickly with better sensitivity, considering the number of people seeking medical attention for dog bites in government hospitals and clinics.

The state needs to have the capacity to screen many people immediately because the virus only manifests itself between two and three months in human infection.

David, who led the research team, expressed his confidence that the project could be completed within two years. It is even possible that Sarawak can become a reference point or reference standard for others in the future, he said.

He explained that Unimas managed to transfer the technology to develop a quick test with design and elements that is specific for use in Sarawak. His team has completed research on the intellectual property part and are preparing to embark on field testing.

David pointed out that better test results would help with the decision-making of the authorities, where they can formulate and implement appropriate rabies prevention measures.

Manyin, when commenting on the grant, said the funding would be a starting point for the research.

The funding is also part of SRDC’s aim support, direct, stimulate and facilitate research and development in Sarawak. The council would also help research institutes, especially the higher learning institutes, to commercialise their findings and studies.

He cited universities in foreign countries, where most no longer depend on government funding, as they are capable of generating funds from the commercialisation of their research.

“The setting up of the council is to ensure research institutes in the state are no longer working in a silo, without coordination or collaboration with others, particularly the state government,” Manyin said. — DayakDaily