McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster's 'Stars' plan to speed diagnosis of disease in children

Published: April 29, 2013
Corinne Schuster-Wallace
Dr. Corinne Schuster-Wallace, Programme Officer (Water-Health Nexus), United Nations University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health
Jeff Pernica
Dr. Jeff Pernica, assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine

A group of McMaster University researchers has been selected as Grand Challenges Canada Stars in Global Health for their plan to simplify and speed up diagnosing intestinal infections in African children. It is one of two McMaster-related awards. 

The prize is a grant of more than $100,000 for a clinical trial at a Botswana hospital that will use the newest molecular methods to identify which children have diarrhea caused by bacterial and parasitic intestinal infections or viruses. This early diagnosis is expected to identify patients who can benefit from treatment much sooner.

According to the World Health Organization, diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death among children under five globally, accounting for more than one in 10 child deaths.

The issue is that the cause of the diarrhea isn't quickly diagnosed, says Dr. Jeff Pernica, assistant professor of the Department of Pediatrics of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and a member of the research team.

Stars in Global Health: Measuring impact
of novel enteric diagnostics (video)

Stars in Global Health: Measuring impact of novel enteric diagnostics

"We feel many children with potentially treatable infections are under-recognized, and our group has been refining a swab system that will allow timely detection and diagnosis. We believe this will save lives," he said, adding that these diseases often slow children's growth which can create lifelong problems.

The researchers will conduct a year-long pilot study of 100 children under five years of age with acute diarrhea admitted to the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, Botswana. The new flocked swabs will be used to test for specific germs, including Campylobacter, Shigella, and enterotoxigenic E. coli.  Results are expected within three days, which will enable the children's physicians to begin appropriate treatment. The researchers will be following up on the children to see the results.

Pernica said the pilot study is one of the first in a sub-Saharan area with high-HIV prevalence. A follow-up multicentre trial is planned.

At this time stool diagnostic testing of children in low-income countries isn't considered cost-effective because the presumption is that viruses cause most diarrhea, he said, and the incidence of bacteria or parasitic disease is underestimated.


At the same time, a group of researchers at the McMaster-based United Nations University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), have also received a $100,000 grant for work in Uganda.

Dr. Corinne Schuster-Wallace will lead a research team to initiate a proposed national program in the African country to collect and transform human and other waste into an energy and revenue-producing bio-gas.  Supported by two Canadian firms, eventual implementation will involve large underground tanks to mulch human waste along with fish market refuse and other organic trash.  Methane from the tanks will be tapped for a new economical source of fuel. 

Stars in Global Health:
Sustainable waste-water management

A recent study concluded that a sanitation system for 400,000 people in Kampala's urban slums can be run without subsidies by marketing wastewater products.

Grand Challenges Canada is a program supporting bold ideas that have a big impact on global health. Funded by the Canadian government through the Development Innovation Fund, the program works with the International Development Research Centre, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and other global foundations and organizations to find sustainable long-term solutions which integrate science, technology, social and business innovation.

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