Easy tuberculosis detection test for children

Published: Saturday 30 September 2006

scientists at the Imperial College, London, are close to finalising a simple blood test for tuberculosis (tb), which will be useful, especially in detecting the disease in children. The test involves looking for certain proteins, or markers, in the blood that are present only if the patient has tb.

The current diagnostic test, commonly called the skin test, involves introducing the tb germ just under the skin and monitoring the immune response of the subject. But because children's immune systems are not fully developed, their response to the skin test can be misleading.

The researchers at the Imperial College used laser enhanced mass spectrometry to identify the mass of the tb marker proteins which circulate in an infected person's blood. They are hoping that they will soon be able to pin down their identity, which will pave the way for making the test available for use. The scientists say that the test will be cheap and easy to carry out. In countries where tb takes a huge toll, cost is one of the most important aspects of the treatment and right now, diagnosis is so unreliable in children that tb therapy is started as a precautionary measure, without knowing for certain if a child has actually contracted the disease.

Tuberculosis can spread rapidly from the lungs to other organs, such as the brain, spine and kidneys, leading to life threatening conditions which particularly affect children, elderly people and those suffering from a depressed immune system.

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