JAN 22, 2020 6:55 AM PST

Biosignatures detect TB infections months before symptoms appear

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

What if there was a test that could detect tuberculosis up to six months before symptoms appear? Researchers at the University of College London think a predictive diagnostic tool like this might soon become a reality, thanks to their work looking into gene expression patterns in the blood.

Tuberculosis, or TB, is caused by a slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This infectious pathogen thrives in oxygen-rich areas of the body, particularly the lungs, and is spread as coughs or sneezes propel it into the air. Immunocompromised people and those who live and work in crowded places such as healthcare facilities and prisons are especially at risk of contracting TB.

 

 

Diagnosis typically involves a tuberculin skin test to identify TB’s asymptomatic latent version. On the other hand, patients presenting with a persistent cough, fatigue, swelling of the lymph nodes or shortness of breath are likely to have the active form. This group is typically subjected to chest X-rays and sputum tests before physicians can make a positive TB diagnosis.

Globally, TB infections are among the top 10 causes of death, with the World Health Organization estimating that 10 million people contracted the disease in 2018. While it’s a condition that is preventable and treatable, a more accessible and reliable diagnostic remains to be developed.

Lead researcher Rishi Gupta hypothesized that mRNA biosignatures in patient blood samples could hold early, presymptomatic diagnostic clues, making them more valuable than traditional sputum samples. In research published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Gupta and colleagues performed their analysis on genetic data collected from over 1000 blood samples, obtained from infected and healthy residents of South Africa, Ethiopia, The Gambia, and the UK. 

The team narrowed down potential mRNA candidates to a panel of 17 genes, which appeared to be consistently differentially expressed in TB-infected people over healthy controls. 

Speaking on the significance of their findings, Gupta said: "The emergence of gene expression signature tests, which can aid diagnosis and early treatment, provides real hope for the management of infectious diseases. In this study we identify multiple signatures to identify the onset of tuberculosis, which is extremely encouraging, potentially providing multiple targets for early detection.”

This is the first step towards a diagnostic blood test that could curtail the spread of TB, enable early antibiotic treatment interventions and prevent unnecessary deaths. 


Sources: Eurekalert, The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
SEP 18, 2019
Health & Medicine
SEP 18, 2019
Honey As An Antibacterial Against Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus
Honey has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years to treat wound infections, gastrointestinal ailments, and burns. Because of th...
SEP 25, 2019
Neuroscience
SEP 25, 2019
Nanolaser designed to function in brain tissue
Scientists have developed a nanolaser (miniaturized laser) that can function inside living tissues. According to researchers, the laser is about 1/1,000th the thickness of a single human hair...
OCT 07, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
OCT 07, 2019
The Three Common Herbs Combating High Blood Pressure: Molecular Mechanism Revealed
Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure is a serious condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 of...
OCT 16, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 16, 2019
A 'Molecular Clock' for Determining a Child's Age
This tool can aid in the diagnosis of developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder....
JAN 28, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
JAN 28, 2020
Protein complex discovered as first biomarker of PTSD
  Researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) have identified a potential d...
FEB 11, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
FEB 11, 2020
Portable device turns smartphones into diagnostic labs
Your smartphone lets you connect with friends, stores your memories, sends work emails and pays for your groceries. Soon, it could even help diagnose if yo...
Loading Comments...