New rapid TB test developed

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Researchers at the University of Cape Town have developed a landmark new rapid test which diagnoses various forms of Tuberculosis (TB) within hours. Experts say since TB is the most common cause of death in South Africa, early diagnosis and treatment are key to managing the disease.

Known as IRISA-TB, the test diagnoses TB Meningitis and extra-pulmonary TB.

Experts say about 500 000 new cases of TB are reported in South Africa every year.

A quarter of these are not in the lungs, which makes detection difficult.

They say current tests are not sensitive enough to accurately diagnose extra-pulmonary TB.

“This is an antibody-based test, which means that it detects a protein… and this protein is in abundance in patients that have a non-pulmonary form of TB… so extra pulmonary, any TB that’s outside the lung. So if we get a patient sample and any way the patient sample is taken it goes on current diagnostic, it will now go onto our diagnostic, and if that protein is there, it’s a colour changes – and if the protein is not there, there’s no colour change. So, this is a protein that can determine whether someone has extra pulmonary TB or they don’t,” says Project Lead Scientist’s Dr Philippa Randall.

The diagnostic test is currently undergoing a process of validation before it can enter the global commercial market.

“This would actually enable the health care system and the patients to be diagnosed much more quickly, and far more accurately. So, you would move away from the empirical treatments that are taking place, because EPTB is notoriously difficult to diagnose. What we have failed to understand is the economic losses that are occurring, and the impact this has on GDP because of TB is extraordinary,” says Chief Executive Officer of Antrum Biotech, Khilona Radia.

The University of Cape Town says it is also engaging in the clinical evaluation of the test. Studies are taking place in a number of countries to gauge the test’s efficacy.

“It’s all good and well developing a test, but the real question is, can the test save lives? And what impact does it have on patients? Is it an accurate test?  So, we are recruiting patients from different parts of the country with extra pulmonary TB – where we can evaluate the performance outcome of this test,” says University of Cape Town Professor Keertan Dheda.

Scientists say preliminary results show a significant improvement compared to existing TB detection tests.