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Tuberculosis Fingerprint Leads to New Diagnostic Test for TB

Two million people die each year of tuberculosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs and other tissues. Most of those TB deaths could be prevented by early diagnosis and treatment. Researchers at St. George's Hospital Medical School at the University of London have developed a technique that could lead to a faster, cheaper and easier TB test.

The scientists studied blood samples using a laser tool to spot telltale components in the blood serum. Lead researcher Sanjeev Krishna says specific biomarkers for TB were identified with nearly 80 percent accuracy, better than the diagnostic tests currently available. "This is encouraging," he says, while noting "it is a long way to go between being able to show that this is a concept proven in principle and to be using it for a patient."

Researchers analyzed blood samples of those known to have TB and others who did not have the disease. Krishna says the next step is to further refine and simplify the technique. "The challenges are to go from formats that we use in the laboratory, which would be using antibody tests and equipment-based approaches, to moving into a system where you are able to do these tests much more simply."

Krishna says a simple, cheap and accurate TB test will have enormous health benefits. "First of all, treatment could be started immediately, which would mean that more patients would take it." Secondly, he says, "If you treat early, you then reduce the chances of transmitting TB and it is much easier to treat an infection early than it is to treat it when it is much more advanced."

Krishna says his group has also had some preliminary success in using the technique to test for sleeping sickness, another disease that's been difficult to diagnose. He is optimistic that the TB test could be available within a few years.

The study was published in the British journal The Lancet.