St George’s researchers have joined a new research consortium aiming to investigate the link between tuberculosis and diabetes, to develop better treatments for both diseases.

The TANDEM project – which is coordinated by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – is a four-year collaborative research and innovation scheme that will provide new evidence on the links between diabetes and TB. This should lead to better strategies to control both diseases and improve patient care.

People with diabetes are three times more likely to develop TB than those without it, so the rapid rise of type 2 diabetes in TB-prevalent countries is a major risk to global TB control.

The consortium will investigate the best ways to diagnose diabetes in TB patients and TB in diabetes patients; the costs of implementing these screenings and resulting treatment; the reasons why many TB patients with diabetes sometimes do not respond well to drug treatment; and whether there are any genes that change the interaction between TB and type 2 diabetes.

The European Commission Seventh Framework Programme-funded project brings together 12 multi-disciplinary partners, including researchers in Germany, South Africa, Romania, Indonesia, Peru, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Professor Julia Critchley and her team at SGUL will manage the major work programme of screening TB patients for diabetes and diabetes patients for TB. This international field study will involve collecting data from four sites in South Africa, Romania, Peru and Indonesia. The SGUL group will organise data management for the four studies, and will lead on a joint analysis of the effectiveness of different methods of screening. This project is significant as it is the first large-scale scheme to investigate different ways of screening for concomitant TB-DM in resource poor settings, and the first to determine the treatment needs for people with both diseases both during and after the end of TB treatment.

Professor Critchley said: “Globally, most TB patients are not screened for diabetes at present, despite the known association between the two diseases. Diabetes is increasing rapidly in urban centres in low and middle-income countries where TB is common. Working out the best ways of screening and treating patients with both conditions could therefore bring rapid health benefits in some of the poorer parts of the world.”