Blood test allows quick TB diagnosis in remote areas

25 October 2019

A new blood test will enable health workers to identify tuberculosis in adults in remote locations in less than an hour.

The University of Queensland’s Emeritus Professor Ian Riley worked with other researchers in Tanzania, India, Mexico and the Philippines on the new test procedure.

“Tuberculosis (TB) has been difficult to control because its symptoms are similar to many other diseases,” Professor Riley said.

“Other challenges include drug resistance to the disease and the high burden of HIV-positive cases in developing countries.”

Professor Riley said the discovery came from using machine learning techniques to study three groups of adults who had a persistent cough for more than three weeks.

"We identified four proteins which can be used for a diagnostic test that distinguishes tuberculosis from other TB-like diseases in adults with persistent cough,” Professor Riley said.

“We then developed an ultra-sensitive screening system to allow us to identify these proteins in blood.

“TB infections were identified in 317 blood samples, regardless of a patient’s HIV infection status.”

Professor Riley said mortality from TB was declining but it remained the world’s 10th highest cause of death, causing 1.3 million deaths annually.

“The first difficulty in controlling TB is obtaining accurate diagnosis at the point-of-care,” Professor Riley said.

“The new blood test enables active tuberculosis to be identified quickly and easily while a patient is visiting a health facility.

“Up until now TB has been diagnosed with sputum smear tests, which doesn’t appear to work as well for remote and outlying facilities, and requires more skilled staff to provide a diagnosis,” Professor Riley said.

“The new blood test meets minimum World Health Organization standards and opens the way for further work towards its clinical application.”

Professor Riley collaborated on the research with the Broad Institute in Massachusetts and the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine in Manila.

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