March’s pharmaceutical breakthrough: New tuberculosis testing option could lead to earlier detection.

This Saturday marks World TB Day, an annual commemoration of the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB). In recognition, we’d like to share a recent breakthrough in tuberculosis diagnosis.

Early detection is the key to effectively treating tuberculosis, a disease the World Health Organization (WHO) reports claimed more than 1.6 million lives in 2016. And while strides have been made, current testing methods are costly and can take weeks to deliver a diagnosis. What’s more, many current testing methods work only in HIV-positive patients. This all leaves many patients to be diagnosed when it is potentially too late.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, however, have recently developed a simpler test for tuberculosis that is effective in most patients, operates very similarly to a drugstore pregnancy test, and could cost as little as $2 per patient.

The test uses innovative sample-preparation technology to detect the LAM protein – a virulence factor of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis – in a patient’s urine. A patient simply needs to provide a urine sample, and the diagnosis results come back in minutes.

Researchers even accounted for the fact that many cases of tuberculosis occur in Africa, adapting the test to be effective even in environments that experience a lot of dust, humidity, or other unique conditions.

Next steps for this breakthrough include researchers’ hopes to earn WHO certification for the test and to begin manufacturing testing kits in Africa.

This breakthrough is exciting to say the least, and we are eager to see its impact on what is currently a devastating disease.

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