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South African Researchers Find Genome for XDR-TB


There’s been a major breakthrough in research on XDR-TB or extremely drug resistant tuberculosis. LifeLab, a biotechnology project funded by the South African government, says it has completed a genome for XDR-TB in just a few weeks. A genome is all the genetic material contained in an organism, including its genes, chromosomes and DNA.

Dr. Blessed Okole is the CEO of LifeLab. From Durban, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the research.

“The genome of TB is very important in that from the genome you’ll be able to know what is causing the particular disease. From the genome, you’ll be able to know exactly what are the constituents of TB,” he says.

The information should be a great help to researchers looking for an effective treatment. Okole says, “It’s very important for treatment and also for diagnostics in that you will know the areas in that region that are specific to a patient, to the XDR-TB patient or MDR (Multi-Drug Resistant patient). And those are the regions that you will use in developing a kit, a diagnostic kit. A kit that will be able for you to come in a hospital and then they take your sputum or blood…and within a short period they tell you whether you have TB in your system. And then you don’t have to go home and come back again before they put you on treatment.”

Currently, it can take up to a week to culture the bacteria. But by then the patient may have spread the illness to even more people. A new diagnostic test could reveal results very quickly, while the patients waits.

People infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, already have weakened immune systems are are very vulnerable to various forms of TB.

The genome was sequenced in just two weeks using technology by Roche. The findings are now being analyzed. Okole says LifeLab is now setting its sights on finding the genome for drug-resistant HIV.