Global advocates such as the World Health Organization (WHO) call for better diagnostic tests for tuberculosis that will improve the diagnosis of tuberculosis, a bacterial disease that affects one third of the world’s population. Of the 10 million new cases of tuberculosis every year, more than three million go undiagnosed and thus not treated, contributing to the continued spread of this life destroying disease. Conventional diagnostic tests rely on laboratory infrastructure and trained lab staff, which are not available in many parts of the world where TB is rife.
In partnership with the UK company QuantuMDx, Professor Butcher and his colleague Dr Dhillon, together with Dr Laing and Dr Witney of the institute’s Pathogen Genomics and Bioinformatics Group, are developing a novel diagnostic test for TB. Built into a portable device, called Q-POC™, produced by QuantuMDx, it can be used without the need for complex lab infrastructure – a truly point of care test – thus finding the hard-to-reach three million undiagnosed TB cases.
The test includes a novel capture device for use directly with normally difficult-to-handle sputum specimens, coughed up by infected people. It then detects the DNA of the causative bacteria –Mycobacterium tuberculosis – at very low levels, so even infections often missed by conventional, less-sensitive tests can be identified. Furthermore, the novel test will include antibiotic resistance-profiling by looking for genetic mutations in the bacterial genome.
Drug resistant TB (DR-TB) is a growing health crisis for the world – difficult to identify and very difficult and costly to treat. Transmission and spread of DR-TB is an emerging potential global health catastrophe. The technology under development through this commercial research partnership between St George’s and QuantuMDx over the last five years has the potential to transform current TB diagnostic methods, thereby addressing the WHO imperative to reduce the burden of TB in our unequal world.