Today, one sputum (mucus) sample is enough to pinpoint the type of bacteria and how resistant to drugs it is, according to an article published in Journal of Clinical Microbiology, whereas the previous method took weeks to complete while waiting for isolated laboratory cultures to grow big enough to reveal their results.
You may catch a strain of drug-resistant tuberculosis while living in London or Lithuania right now, as TBC is as common there as in Sub-Saharan Africa these days.
Finding ways to identify and treat infections such as TBC much faster is now a reality thanks to a team effort between researchers at University College London, the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, CLC bio-Qiagen and Oxford Gene Technology.
Their discovery shows with a 100% accuracy that they could enrich Mtb (tuberculosis bacteria) DNA from sputum samples, enabling them to sequence and analyze the samples immediately, by using RNA molecules to bind to Mtb DNA.
The benefits are huge – patients no longer need to wait for up to six weeks to get the right treatment, and the risks are substantially lower for others to get infected, since a quick identification of the TBC bacteria also allows for quick quarantine decisions to be made.
Before, patients could often only be treated with more general medications while waiting for the test results, meaning they sometimes had to suffer through the side effects from unnecessary and unpleasant treatments. As the global population gets more and more resistant to antimicrobial drugs, the importance to identify the type of bacteria as well as its level of drug resistance is increasing by the day.
The successful project has been undertaken as a part of the PATHSEEK project, which is a European Union FP7-funded consortium, and to broaden the possibilities to enhance the effectiveness in treatment of even more diseases, they are already testing the same method on hepatitis, HIV, influenza A, chlamydia, herpes and a few other infectious diseases.
Another part of their combined effort is to create cheaper and simpler ways to implement this technique, to make it more available for countries and regions where healthcare is not always capable to handle outbreaks as quickly as needed, due to economical restraints.