Project: To develop a novel diagnostic test that can differentiate scrub typhus from other causes of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) in children

Encephalitis, swelling or inflammation of the brain, is a serious global health problem, leading to death of up to one-third of people affected by it, and around half of survivors not recovering fully. Recent research has shown scrub typhus as a major cause of encephalitis in children in India. Scrub typhus is an infection caused by bacteria that affects around 1 million people each year, especially in southeast Asia. Early diagnosis of scrub typhus encephalitis is important, as it is treatable, so starting antibiotics early can prevent death and long-term health problems.

Currently, scrub typhus diagnostics have problems (such as delays in performing lumbar puncture) that can lead to results being slow and/or unreliable. This research will start to address these challenges. I will examine the body’s responses (host transcripts) in the blood of children with scrub typhus encephalitis. I will compare these responses to those of patients with other causes of encephalitis and clinically similar brain infections. I will identify patient transcript responses unique to scrub typhus brain infection and use these transcripts to begin to develop a fast and accurate diagnostic blood test for scrub typhus encephalitis This test will offer prompt and accurate diagnosis, leading to earlier appropriate treatment and improved patient outcomes

Project Lead: Dr Tina Damodar DBT-Wellcome Trust Early Career Fellow

Department and institution: Department of Neurovirology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, India (External sponsor for DBT Wellcome trust project: Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom)

Awarded 2022