Development of a molecular biology tool based algorithm to improve the diagnosis in the African Meningitis Belt

Meningococcal carriage

Scientific version
  • Researchers:
    Dr Olivier Manigart, Prof Samba Sow
  • Start Date:
    01 August 2011
  • Category:
    Detection
  • Location:
    Centre of Vaccine Development, Bamako, Mali, Bamako, Mali
Development of a molecular biology tool based algorithm to improve the diagnosis in the African Meningitis Belt
What is this project about?

This study is designed to increase the value of the MenAfriCar project, which is a large-scale effort aiming to evaluate meningococcal carriage among the population of 7 countries in the African meningitis belt: Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia. In the MenAfriCar project, carriage will be measured before and after the introduction of a new meningococcal A conjugate (MenA) vaccine. Currently, a test to identify meningitis strains exists, but only for the most common disease causing strains (A, B, C, X, Y and W135). Other strains, which contribute to the complex causes of meningococcal infection in Africa, cannot be correctly identified with this test and/or other available techniques.

In this project, researchers propose to adapt the existing lab test to be more specific and test for rarer kinds of meningococci: groups H, 29E and those bacteria with no sugar coating. They will design new probes for these rarer meningococci and confirm that probes for the more common meningococcal strains work properly in bacteria isolated from Africa. Then they will optimise the new technique with known samples from the UK. The technique will be validated by testing all the samples collected during the MenAfriCar pilot studies for which results were inconclusive using existing techniques. The pilot studies collected 250 samples from each of the seven countries involved.

Why is this important?

Introduction of the new MenA vaccine in the African meningitis belt could make epidemic meningitis a thing of the past. However, we know from the introduction of MenC vaccine in the UK and other European countries that it was the vaccine’s impact on carriage and transmission of the bacteria, creating herd immunity that was key to its resounding success. The same is likely to be true for MenA, which is based on the same technology as the MenC vaccine. It is crucial to have the scientific techniques to measure carriage available in time to evaluate the impact MenA has when it is introduced.

Potential outcomes

We hope this project will enable detection of these rarer strains in the African Meningitis Belt. This work should generate a rapid, low cost and reliable way to evaluate the prevalence and incidence of meningococcal strains in the African Meningitis Belt.

Researchers also plan to improve the regular diagnostic techniques for identifying more common meningococci and to develop a good methodology for sites that do not have access to the latest technology. This project will also provide capacity building: a young African scientist will be trained in state-of-the-art molecular biological techniques. Most of the sites involved in the MenAfriCar project are reference labs for common diseases in their countries, and the network that will be created through this project will allow technical and scientific information exchanges.


We recently had a visit from Kanny Diallo, the technician working on our project in Mali to develop a new tool for detecting rarer types of meningococcal bacteria.

The tool will be used as part of the MenAfriCar and MenAfriVac projects to see whether the new MenA vaccine, which has been introduced into several countries in sub-saharan Africa since December 2010, is having an effect and whether it is causing other types of meningococcal bacteria to rise or fall.

Kanny is the technician working on the development of the tool, and as part of the MRF grant, came to the UK to gain some expert input in the design of the tool. During her 12 day stay, she visited collaborators at Oxford University and after her visit to us, headed on to Manchester for more meetings with experts there.

Kanny gave a really interesting and in depth presentation on the background behind the project and why it is so important and it was really great to see that it is already producing some promising results.

View Kanny's presentation


    Target amount

    £20000.00

    Donated so far

    £0.00

    So far £0.00 has been raised for this project including these recent donations...
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