Tuberculosis is a preventable disease and yet, globally, over 600 children under the age of 15 die from it every day, according to the World Health Organization. As a global health burden, tuberculosis is also a leading cause of death among children under the age of five. One of the main reasons for this is frequent misdiagnosis or lack of access to diagnosis in time. To address this, researchers have developed a new diagnostic tool that only requires a blood sample from the fingertip.
The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, found that the new tool is based on three distinct genes' activity, which can be assessed in capillary blood. Healthcare workers can detect a transcriptome signature, which can help diagnose tuberculosis, in these genes using a novel, semi-automated method. A benefit of this test is that it is easy to draw blood from the fingertip and results may be obtained fast, according to the press statement published in Eureka Alert! explained.
“We have the results in just over an hour. For most other tests, the samples have to be sent to other laboratories for analysis,” study author Laura Olbrich said in the statement. Notably, the test identified almost 60% of children with tuberculosis, with 90% specificity, making it comparable with or better than all other tests that work with biomarkers, the researchers explained.
Currently, the researchers have tested the tool as part of the comprehensive RaPaed-TB tuberculosis study, which is conducted in collaboration with partners in India, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Malawi, the statement added.
Research on ways to enhance tuberculosis diagnosis has been underway for decades. Previously, a 2022 study, led by researchers from Tulane University, also developed a highly sensitive blood test for tuberculosis diagnosis that screens for DNA fragments of the mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria that causes the disease, according to a Science Daily report. This test can quickly identify tuberculosis and determine whether drug treatments are effective by monitoring levels of DNA from the pathogen in the bloodstream.
Improving access to diagnosis is the first step to eradicating the disease, which is a major cause of morbidity and mortality, especially among children.