New TB lab test method cuts diagnosis time

By Wai Lang Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Infectious disease Tuberculosis

Norwegian biotechnology firm, Genpoint, is running trials of new
DNA tests for tuberculosis (TB) in which its novel DNA method aims
to cut diagnosis time, cheaper and quicker without an increase of
personnel in the health care sector.

Current manual test methods can take at least a week, in which the bacteria must incubate for up to eight weeks before a diagnosis can be made. This is a tricky and time-consuming process for laboratories that perform the tests.

In addition, the tests must often be taken several times over a period of up to six months before it is certain what type of tuberculosis bacteria is being dealt with.

Genpoint​'s approach makes use of spheres to isolate bacteria. The spheres pull bacteria to themselves, dissolving the bacteria so the DNA is released and absorbed by the spheres.

With further analysis of the DNA, the bacteria can be identified. Both the cells and the DNA are captured by the same sphere surface, making it much easier to automate the process.

Genpoint has said that test results are available in a few minutes at best and in a few hours at worst.

"We expect to be finished with the documentation period late this autumn and that the tests in the best case can be available for ordinary use in the country's laboratories from late autumn or early next year,"​ said Geir Gogstad, Genpoint's administrative director.

New forms of tuberculosis bacteria are constantly being discovered, of which many of these are resistant to antibiotics.

Therefore the job to find more effective and speedy methods to identify the disease and reduce infection are more important than ever before, even though the disease over the last 40 years has been held in check in northern Europe thanks to vaccination programmes.

"The new test methods will mean an enormous difference from the existing test when it comes to the authorities' ability to treat tuberculosis patients,"​ said Gogstad.

"Many more can be tested using far less money than today, without an increase of personnel in the health care sector."

The spread of TB has been most prevalent in developing countries where the rate of infection has been soaring.

In the developing world, with poor infrastructure like roads and communications, even six months may be too long for the people located there.

Another factor has been the HIV pandemic, which has increased the problem of TB in addition to HIV itself.

Molecular amplification methods such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), are proven technologies for the detection of TB but have not been widely used in remote settings because of the cost and complexity of existing systems.

Cost has been the main sticking factor in the progress towards effective TB drugs. However, with 2 million deaths worldwide every year, mainly in third world countries, an effective yet cost-effective treatment is desperately needed.

In the future, Genpoint plans to further develop its tests to include multi-resistant staphylococcus, which is a world-wide problem in hospitals, but has begun to manifest itself as a contagion outside of hospitals.

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