A new study from the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative at the University of Cape Town suggests that a simple blood test can predict a person’s chances of developing tuberculosis (TB).
Scientists believe that approximately a third of the global population has TB infections but only a few fully develop the symptomatic disease. Now, researchers can detect biological markers located in the blood of people who have latent TB infections. The scientists were able to predict the genetic susceptibility to TB as early as 18 months before the person experienced symptoms.
This study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a milestone achievement allowing health professionals to predict which people have the highest risk of developing the active form of TB.
If this research continues to receive support from further clinical trials, it may be the new test for doctors to use for TB diagnosis. This could help scientists develop target treatments for people who are most at risk for TB, helping them to stop the disease before it fully develops.
The research took a decade to complete. In the first stage, the scientists gathered blood samples taken from 6,000 people with asymptomatic TB infections over a two-year period; analyses showed patterns within the genes, showing differences between healthy and TB-infected people.
The second stage required that the team verify that the genetic risk signature truly predicted TB infections. This phase included over 4,500 volunteers in Gambia and South Africa.