A collaborative network led by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has received an $8 million grant from the Leducq Foundation to fund a project that will look to identify and validate biomarkers for acute rheumatic fever (ARF). These biomarkers will serve as a basis for the world’s first sensitive and specific diagnostic test for ARF, which initiates a slow but progressive process of heart valve damage dubbed rheumatic heart disease.
“Despite the high burden of rheumatic heart disease in most low and middle-income countries, rheumatic fever has been incredibly challenging to diagnose,” said Andrea Beaton, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Cincinnati Children’s and lead researcher for this project. “The symptoms of ARF overlap with other common childhood illnesses and lack of a single, easy-to-deploy diagnostic test further hampers diagnosis.”
Beaton published research in August 2021 detailing, for the first time, the incidence of ARF in sub-Saharan Africa. Her study employed a novel approach of wide-spread community and healthcare worker sensitization to increase referrals for possible ARF.
The collaboration of researchers – dubbed the Acute Rheumatic Fever Diagnosis Collaborative (ARC) Network – represents experts from six continents who specialize in bacterial pathogenesis, immunology, genetics, system biology, bioinformatics, and epidemiology as well as clinicians living and working in low- and middle-income countries across four continents where RHD remains endemic. These investigators have a strong track record of successful and productive collaboration, with more than 150 co-authored publications on ARF and RHD.
“The ARC Network brings together an incredible group of global experts who will utilize modern scientific methods to identify a diagnostic test for rheumatic fever,” said Beaton. “Our work has the potential to transform the way we diagnose rheumatic fever globally and to help uncover new targets for prevention and treatment.”
ARC expects their discoveries over the next five years to modernize ARF diagnosis and establish a robust platform for future research into the disease. These discoveries will ensure higher quality epidemiological surveillance, inform vaccine safety and trials, and help innovate new strategies for ARF prevention and treatment.
 ARC members represent: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, The Federal University of Minas Gerais, State Children’s Hospital, Menzies School of Health, Charles Darwin University, Tidzewe Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, The Children’s Hospital and Institute of Child Health Lahore, Children’s National Medical Centre, The Uganda Heart Institute, Telethon Kids Institute, Perth Children’s Hospital, Mulago National Referral Hospital, The University of Auckland, Imperial College London, Biotome, Sanquin, The University of British Columbia, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, The University of Queensland, The University of Cape Town, Hudson Institute of Medical Research, University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, The Ryal Children’s Hospital, and the Center of Disease Control.