Researchers at NUI Galway develop DNA test for TB

29 Jun 2012

Research from NUI Galway recently published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology and PLoS ONE details a new DNA test for TB that can detect all bacteria associated with the disease.

According to the World Health Organisation, TB is one of the greatest killers due to a single infectious agent worldwide, second only to HIV/AIDS. In 2010, 8.8m people contracted TB, and 1.4m died from it.

More than 95pc of these cases occurred in developing countries, and optimal treatment for TB can vary depending on what bacteria is causing it.

TB is caused by a group of bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTC). Some of these bacteria are naturally resistant to commonly used anti-TB drugs.

SeekTB – an international co-operation

The Molecular Diagnostics Research Group at NUI Galway has developed and validated a new assay, or laboratory test, called SeekTB, to identify all bacteria from MTC.

The new test could also help centralised clinical reference labs to track the disease and conduct epidemiological studies on the various bacteria species comprising the complex.

“Identifying the specific member of the MTC is currently not routinely performed in testing laboratories and therefore it is unknown what the true impact each member of the MTC has on the global TB epidemic,” said Dr Thomas Barry, who lectures in microbiology at NUI Galway.

Development of the test has been an international co-operation, as the technology was initially validated by Prof Dick van Soolingen in the Netherlands and Dr Stefan Niemann in Germany, and was used by Prof Alimuddin Zumla and Dr Matthew Bates in University College London to analyse patient samples from Zambia.

Further research could lead to testing on handheld devices

The test takes only 1.5-3 hours to complete and, in the future, could be configured to a handheld device for use at point-of-care in resource-poor settings. “This could be a huge benefit to medical care provision in remote areas,” said Barry. “However, it will likely take years of research and development to achieve such a goal.”

In its current format, SeekTB is likely to be predominantly used on culture-positive TB patient samples in central testing laboratories in places like Africa, to guide appropriate treatment and control measures.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.