The Africa Health Research Institute has been established to fight both HIV and tuberculosis (TB) in South Africa and beyond. With funding from U.K.-based Wellcome Trust and the U.S.-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the institute aims to make discoveries that will help solve this problem using clinical and basic research. A partner in this collaboration is KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB-HIV (K-RITH). In the video, Alexander Pym takes us on a tour of that facility which has the tremendous advantage of being a laboratory that can directly access a clinic, with information flowing in both directions.
In the lab, the investigators are trying to find better ways to detect drug resistant TB. At present, it can take two or three months to determine the type of TB a patient might carry. While testing goes on, doctors can only guess at the proper treatment. Giving the patient the wrong drugs can also just make the TB they carry more resistant.
The researchers are trying to find out what genetic mutations occur in TB that make it resistant to treatment, so they can develop tests that pinpoint the type of TB in a patient. Then, doctors will know what therapy is best for that patient in only a matter of days or weeks.
TB has to be studied in a highly controlled environment because it can be transmitted directly through the air, so the scientists have access to one of the best biosafety labs on the entire continent of Africa.
They currently can treat drug-resistant TB cases in 18 months to two years, but would like to shorten that time significantly, to under nine months.