New TB markers could lead to new diagnostics and treatments

Researchers recently identified new markers for tuberculosis that could result in new diagnostic tests and treatments, according to a study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K. found that fragments released by the breakdown of key proteins in the lung are increased in the sputum of TB patients. One collagen fragment, PIIINP, was elevated in TB patient blood samples.

The new markers could lead to new screening techniques to stop the transmission of TB between population groups.

"These lung breakdown products have never been identified in TB before, and have the potential to be used as new markers to identify patients with TB and monitor the effect of new treatments on lung damage," Paul Elkington, the study's leader, said. "This may permit population screening to find and treat highly infectious individuals to break the cycle of transmission, especially in developing world countries where TB is most prominent."

Elkington's team worked with Imperial College London, the University of Cape Town in South Africa and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV in Durban, South Africa. K-RITH and the Wellcome Trust primarily funded the research.

"This study is a major step forward towards finding improved tests for diagnosing TB and for determining whether the TB is improving with therapy or worsening with therapy as such would be seen when patients have resistant TB," Bill Bishai, the director of the K-RITH, said. "Improved diagnostic tests are desperately needed, not only to improve patient care in resource-poor countries, but also to accelerate clinical trials with new therapies."

The research team is now looking into all fragments released by lung destruction to develop new test kits that can be completed at a patient's bedside.