Blood from children with tuberculosis provides key to diagnosis

The identification of a distinct genetic ‘signature’ in the blood of infected children could turn around notoriously poor TB diagnosis rates, say an international body of scientists.

Utilising a unique genetic ‘signature’ found in the blood of children with TB could help aid in faster diagnosis of the life-threatening disease, researchers from Imperial College London et al have reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

TB is currently notoriously difficult to treat in children, with most diagnosed when already critically ill. The disease has usually already had a chance to spread from the lungs to the brain or other organs. Worldwide, the disease is surpassed only by HIV/AIDS as the number one cause of death from a single infection.

Lead researcher Professor Michael Levin explained: “We urgently need better methods to diagnose TB in children, so treatment can be started earlier and to avoid unnecessary treatment of children who are wrongly diagnosed.

“The symptoms of TB in children are common to many other childhood diseases, and the standard tests used on adults are not effective in children. Although the disease is treatable, thousands of children still die each year due to late diagnosis and many more are left with damage to their brain, bones and lungs".

The researchers believe that the disease could soon be diagnosed by focussing on 51 specific genes associated with infected children. The tool could, they believe, be a cheap, quick and reliable diagnostic test for children in areas where TB is still prevalent, including South Africa, Malawi and Kenya.

Professor Levin added: "It has taken seven years and the combined efforts of clinicians and scientists in the UK, Africa and Singapore to identify this gene signature of childhood TB.

“What we now need is collaboration from biotechnology and industrial partners to turn these findings into a simple, rapid and affordable test for TB that can be used in hospitals worldwide".

Source: The Information

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By The Information

Published: April 29, 2014, 9:28 p.m.

Last updated: April 30, 2014, 1:31 a.m.

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