Burnet awarded grant to develop next generation liver test

The Burnet Diagnostics Initiative (BDI) will develop a rapid point-of-care (POC) test to better monitor liver health, thanks to funding from the Victorian Government.

Over 10 million Australians are believed to suffer from some form of liver disease, yet almost 50 per cent of these people are undiagnosed. There are usually no symptoms of liver dysfunction until very late stages of disease.

The two-year $500,000 Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund grant will help support BDI’s development of a next generation POC test focused on community-based screening of liver function, and ensure timely clinical interventions for people with liver damage.

The BDI has already successfully developed a first-generation POC test, which takes only 30 minutes to read the result from a finger prick of blood. This new funding will enable a second-generation test to be developed, which through using the latest technology will bring that test time down to 15 minutes or shorter.

Professor Heidi Drummer, Scientific Director of the BDI, said a rapid POC test for alanine aminotransferase (ALT), a biomarker in the blood that can indicate liver damage, would be a game-changer for acute and chronic liver disease and liver cancer prevention globally.

“The ability to diagnose liver disease earlier using a simple screening tool could transform how we manage liver health in Australia and globally,” Professor Drummer said.

“A simple screening test that could be performed by healthcare workers in community settings to detect liver inflammation of any cause, would then prompt further investigations for underlying liver disease before any major liver damage occurs,” she said.

Metabolic associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD), due to obesity, is the most common chronic liver disease in Australia. Alcohol-related liver disease (ALD) is also on the rise. Access to a POC test that could be used in a variety of settings – from busy Emergency Departments to self-testing at home – could help identify the need for earlier health interventions to reverse liver damage and prevent the diseases progressing to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Currently, the global market for liver disease tests is valued at USD$30 billion and expected to reach $50 billion by 2028.

The BDI-led test is being developed in collaboration with other members of the Alfred Research Alliance, St Vincent’s and The Austin hospitals, AnteoTech Ltd and Atomo Diagnostics Limited.

The Burnet Diagnostics Initiative (BDI), established in 2021, aims to enhance the translation of existing and new technologies into practical health solutions. Currently the portfolio of activities of the BDI includes tests for the measurement of liver function, syphilis, and a series of diagnostic assays for COVID-19.

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