US NIH commits to assisting SA researchers to find a faster TB test

The institute has granted Stellenbosch University R128 million to investigate new TB diagnostic and predictive tests.

A digitally colourised scanning electron microscopic image depicts a grouping of red-coloured, rod-shaped Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria which cause tuberculosis in human beings. Picture: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

CAPE TOWN – The United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) has committed to assisting researchers in South Africa to find a faster tuberculosis (TB) test, which will help in the fight against the disease.

The institute has granted Stellenbosch University R128 million to investigate new TB diagnostic and predictive tests.

The global clinical project will compare the performance of the tests for adults, children, and people living with HIV and type-2 diabetes.

At present, the turnaround time for TB tests is an obstacle in the fight to completely eradicate the disease.

It requires a patient’s sputum sample to be sent to a central laboratory and results are only available several days later.

Professor Gerhard Walzl principal investigator and executive head of the campus’ biomedical sciences department explained the cumbersome nature of TB testing results in some people not going on treatment.

“People have to stand in queues all day more often at the clinic and have to lose income on those days.”

Walzl said scientists were evaluating how accurate and sensitive these finger-prick blood tests were as alternative to the sputum, laboratory test.

Laboratory TB tests will not become redundant, but rapid tests would reduce the volume of samples to be processed at a lab.

The study will run for five years and involves 4,000 participants.

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