Test outperforms all others on market and takes just hours to complete, key in fighting disease that remains major worldwide risk
Tuberculosis, once better known as consumption for the way its victims wasted away, has a long and deadly history, with estimates indicating it may have killed more people than any other bacterial pathogen.
Consumption played a role in many of our stories of the Old West, but even today — despite $6.6 billion spent for international TB care and prevention efforts — it remains a major risk to human health.
A group of maverick scientists from Arizona, Texas and Washington, D.C., has teamed up to develop the first rapid blood test to diagnose and quantitate the severity of active TB cases.
Led by Tony Hu, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, eight research groups, including the Houston Methodist Research Institute and scientists at the National Institutes of Health, are harnessing the new field of nanomedicine to improve worldwide TB control.
“In the current frontlines of TB testing, coughed-up sputum, blood culture tests, invasive lung and lymph biopsies, or spinal taps are the only way to diagnose TB,” said Hu, an associate professor at the ASU's School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “The results can give false negatives, and these tests are further constrained because they can take days to weeks to get the results.”
The team’s newly developed blood-based TB test not only outperforms all others on the market but also takes just hours to complete. This is critical since effective TB control requires that patients start treatment as soon as possible to reduce the risk of spreading it.
This test also holds promise for rapid assessment of TB treatment, an important factor in reducing the development and spread of drug-resistant strains.
And in a fitting twist of fate, Hu’s laboratory in the Biodesign Institute's Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics is only about a mile away from the original Arizona State Tuberculosis Sanatorium, a Moorish-influenced structure that opened in Tempe, Arizona, in 1934 and had 60 beds available to treat patients.
A history of affliction
Estimates suggest that TB has killed a billion people over the past two centuries.
Locally, TB deeply influenced the early history of Arizona, since the warm, dry climate spurred the growth of sanatoriums and a medical tourism industry that helped give rise to Phoenix’s original population boom in the late 1800s.