Texas A&M researchers identify new TB test to improve speed of diagnosis

Researchers from Texas A&M University, in collaboration with GBDbio, recently identified a new test for tuberculosis that may improve the speed and accuracy of diagnoses of the disease and allow health providers to report results within minutes.

Jeffrey Cirillo, a professor at A&M's Health Science Center College of Medicine, worked with A&M spinoff GBDbio to identify a new chemical compound that can detect the TB bacteria at a level of sensitivity that currently takes months to produce.

Results from the first human clinical trial showed the test can determine with 86 percent sensitivity and 73 percent specificity whether a patient has tuberculosis. The most widely available and used test-smear microscopy-has a lower ability to detect TB, ranging between just 50 to 60 percent sensitivity.

TB is the second leading cause of death from an infectious disease in the world. While preventable, the disease can be spread through the air when an individual with active TB coughs or sneezes. Untreated, a person with TB can infect 10 to 15 people each year.

The latest development uses a fluorescent substrate to target BlaC-an enzyme produced by the bacteria that causes TB-to indicate the presence of the bacteria. After sputum samples are combined with the substance, a battery-powered tabletop device called the TB REaD detects fluorescence and delivers results in as little as 10 minutes.

"Interrupting disease transmission will require early and accurate detection paired with appropriate treatment," Cirillo said. "Our new, rapid point-of-care TB test dramatically reduces the current delays in diagnosis with incredible accuracy, accelerating appropriate treatment and reducing the death rate of the highly infectious disease. We're looking at a low-cost, easy-to-use test that has the potential to eradicate TB."

Many diagnostic tools can take several months to produce the same level of sensitivity and can cost upwards of $20,000. The new test developed by Cirillo and other researchers, which is currently in the later stages of clinical trials, costs less than $1,000 for the reader and less than $5 per test. It is expected to hit market within the next 18 months.