Case Studies/African Sleeping Sickness Test

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Murdoch University scientists led by Zablon Njiru and Andrew Thompson have developed a simple blood test for African sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis or 'HAT') which they’ve published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases under a Creative Commons Attribution licence, making their findings accessible to the world.

Scientific works don’t have an isolated meaning; they exist only in reference to the broader scientific community, and the whole reason you publish them is so that other people will read and use them. Michael Eisen, Co-Founder, Public Library of Science


In March 2008, a team of Australian researchers led by Zablon Njiru and Andrew Thompson announced the development of an elegantly simple, low-tech and low-cost blood test for identifying African sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis, or ‘HAT’). Observing the presence of infection via a colour change in reactive liquid from orange to green, the scientists have provided a way to test for this deadly disease in an endemic rural area using limited equipment. What differentiated their discovery, apart from its ease-of-use and efficiency, is the fact that the findings were licensed under Creative Commons, allowing the world costless access to their research.

In their article titled ‘Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) Method for Rapid Detection of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense,’ the Murdoch University team – comprising Zablon Njiru, Andrew Mikosza, Tanya Armstrong, John Enyaru, Joseph Ndung’u, and Andrew Thompson – published their findings relating to a rapid and robust diagnostic test for HAT. Significantly, they chose to publish in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, an open-access journal devoted to the pathology, epidemiology, treatment, control, and prevention of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), such as elephantiasis, leprosy, schistosomiasis, river blindness, and African sleeping sickness, as well as public policy relevant to this group of diseases. This Public Library of Science journal seeks to promote the efforts of scientists, health practitioners, and public-health experts from endemic countries, highlighting the global public health importance of NTDs whilst advocating the plight of the poor who suffer from these infectious diseases.

License Usage

Articles published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases are made available under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic licence, which the Public Library of Science designates as ‘CCAL’. Under CCAL, authors retain ownership of the copyright of their article, whilst allowing anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy articles published in the PLoS journal, so long as the original authors and source are cited. No permissions are required from the authors or publishers to use the work in these terms. In this way, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases provides a forum for the NTDs community of scientific investigators, health practitioners, control experts, and advocates to publish their findings in an open-access format.

Michael Eisen, co-founder of the Public Library of Science, explained the rationale behind adopting CCAL:

‘We chose the attribution license because it ensures the optimal accessibility and usability while preserving the one thing that scientists value the most: attribution for their work.’

To finance this framework, PLoS journals employ a business model in which expenses (for peer review, journal production, online hosting and archiving) are recovered in part by charging a publication fee to the authors and research sponsors for each article they publish. For PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases the publication fee is currently $US2100. Authors affiliated with an institutional member are eligible for a discount. Moreover, authors who do not have sufficient funds to cover publication fees are offered complete or partial waivers. Inability to pay does not influence the decision to publish a paper.


Discussing the Murdoch University researchers’ decision to license their findings under Creative Commons, Margaret Ruwoldt from the University of Melbourne observed:

‘In the Murdoch case, the “public good” factor is a clear winner in the debate over whether to provide open access to a university’s research output: people in poor and developing countries need low-cost medical and health care, particularly for endemic diseases that don’t occur as widely in developed countries (trypanosomiasis is one; malaria is another).’

Glenn Otis Brown, the then Executive Director of Creative Commons, interviewed Public Library of Science co-founder Michael Eisen about the library’s use of Creative Commons in 2005. As a biologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and UC Berkeley, Eisen espoused open access to scientific research:

‘Open access will… enable scientists to begin transforming scientific literature into something far more useful than the electronic equivalent of millions of individual articles in rows of journals on library shelves. The ability to search, in an instant, an entire scientific library for particular terms or concepts, for methods, data, and images – and instantly retrieve the results – is only the beginning.’ - Michael Eisen, Public Library of Science

Eisen reflected on the early success of PLoS, noting that 30,000 people signed an open letter supporting the open-access organisation, and that acceptance of OA was steadily increasing. Asked why PLoS decided to employ Creative Commons licensing, he responded:

‘Creative Commons and PLoS share the common goal of strengthening the science commons, and we want to take advantage of all the work Creative Commons and the growing number of Creative Commons license users are doing to create, defend, and internationalize licenses that define the commons.’

Article citation: Njiru ZK, Mikosza ASJ, Armstrong T, Enyaru JC, Ndung'u JM, et al. (2008) Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) Method for Rapid Detection of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2(2): e147. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000147