DOST supports ‘exploratory’ research on use of aptamers for early detection of leptospirosis

Published February 20, 2021, 9:25 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST)  is giving its all-out support to a research study  on the use of aptamers for early detection of leptospirosis. 


DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said  an exploratory research was made on the possibility of using in silico methodologies to screen aptamers. 

During his weekly report on Friday, Feb. 19, he explained that aptamers are short, single-stranded deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or ribonucleic acid (RNA) (ssDNA or ssRNA) molecules that can selectively bind to a specific target, including proteins, peptides, carbohydrates, small molecules, toxins, and even live cells. 

They are useful in solving many problems in diagnostic and therapy of diseases, he noted. 

“Among the existing methodologies, the use of Genetic Algorithm (GA) coupled with Molecular Docking simulations seem promising considering the time frame of the study and available computational resources,” de la Peña said. 

“Given that GA is one of the most efficient optimization algorithms typically used in machine learning applications, it will help in minimizing the total number of simulations to be done while still arriving on an optimum set of aptamer candidates.”

The Secretary said seeking to select the desired aptamers and validate a lateral-flow assay, the project collaborated with the College of Public Health, University of the Philippines-Manila (CPH-UPM) for clinical validation and use of archived samples for leptospirosis. 

He noted that two high-performance computing centers were tapped to conduct an in silico analysis or an experiment performed on computer or via computer simulation. These were the Philippine Genome Center Core Facility for Bioinformatics and the Computing and Archiving Research Environment (COARE) of the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI). 

“For aptamer selection and next generation sequencing (NGS), a partnership was established with Novaptech, a company in Bordeaux, France which offers aptamer services,” de la Peña said. 

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by the Leptospira spirochetes bacteria. It is spread through the urine of infected animals, especially rats. 

The Department of Health (DOH) said its modes of transmission include wading in contaminated floodwaters, ingesting contaminated food or water.

It said the bacterium has an incubation period of seven to 10 days before symptoms appear, which include high fever, muscle pain, eye redness, chills, severe headache, vomiting, diarrhea, or yellowish skin discoloration.

Severe cases can lead to  kidney failure, brain damage, massive internal bleeding, and death.