New test seen as big advance in diagnosing TB

Last Updated: Sep 02, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

New York:Scientists are reporting a major advance in diagnosing tuberculosis. A new test can reveal in less than two hours, with very high accuracy, whether someone has the disease and if it`s resistant to the main drug for treating it.

The test could revolutionize TB care and replace the 125-year-old process used now, which is slow and misses more than half of all cases, experts say. A better test would be a powerful tool to curb TB in poor countries, where most people spread the lung disease before they are diagnosed and treated, and many don`t return for follow-up doctor visits to get test results.

In the United States, it could be a big help in inner city clinics, where diagnosing a drug-resistant strain on someone`s first visit enables proper treatment right away.

"You can tell the patient before they leave the office if they have TB and if it`s drug-resistant. It`s transformational," said Dr. Peter Small, head of TB programs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the work, along with the U.S. government.

The World Health Organization will meet with experts over the next few days to review results and plan steps forward, says a statement from one of its TB experts, Dr. Mario Raviglione.

"These results suggest that it has the potential to revolutionize TB care, and WHO will treat it as a top priority," the statement says.

A study of the test was published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

TB kills about 1.8 million people a year and increasingly is caused by bacteria that are resistant to one or more drugs. The best test — growing the bacteria in a lab dish from a mucus sample — takes a week or more, so the most common approach is to look for bacteria in a sample under a microscope.

The test they devised is simple enough to be done with minimal training. It requires only 15 minutes of manual labor, for taking the mucus sample, mixing it with chemicals and putting it in an inkjet-like cartridge that goes into a machine. The machine amplifies the DNA in the sample and checks for bits of bacterial genes.

The whole process takes less than two hours.

Bureau Report