Getting a faster diagnosis saves lives

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A better test for tuberculosis
By Michelle Robertson
With the potential to give results in just 12 hours, a team of scientists have developed a highly accurate urine test for tuberculosis (TB) that could make it much easier to identify the disease in potentially life-threatening situations. Doctors currently diagnose the condition by other means including a skin reaction test. This takes a few days to give results which can mean that urgent assistance is delayed when it’s needed quickly. Using the current slow methods around 40% of cases are not identified until the symptoms have become obvious, and by that time the infection can be much harder to treat.

The new test developed by Alessandra Luchini of George Mason University (US), detects a certain sugar that coats the surface of TB bacteria which are present in infected people’s urine. If the sugar is present then the patient has TB. The test uses ingenious little molecular cages that can actually catch and trap these sugar molecules. It is capable of detecting the sugar at extremely low concentrations, which makes it about 1,000 times more accurate than previous methods for detecting TB in urine. The research team is conducting trials on thousands of people, and they expect the test to be available to the public by 2021.


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