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Research on improvements in diagnosing and treating tuberculosis

This press release is available in Spanish.

Project PreDiCT-TB is being developed jointly by the Seventh Framework Program and the European pharmaceutical industry in the hopes of studying and improving the treatment of tuberculosis, and infectious disease that affects nearly nine million people throughout the world. The goal is to develop a set of pre-clinical trials ('in vitro' and 'in vivo') that will provide critical data for identifying decision-making criteria regarding the effectiveness of a given treatment, as well as to optimize the clinical studies of new combinations of drugs used to fight tuberculosis. "These data will, first, offer us an early evaluation of the efficiency of the combinations of drugs used to treat tuberculosis; and, second, they will allow us to optimize the clinical studies with patients", states the head of research at UC3M, Juan Jos Vaquero, from the Bioengineering and Aerospace Engineering Department.

The work being done at this Madrid university is mainly focused on the research and the development of new pre-clinical imaging technology, as well as on methods for processing and analyzing images for the evaluation and follow-up of illness in animal models. "We are going to develop new in vivo molecular image devices and also work on the synthesis of very specific probes for the biomarkers of this illness that have been identified by other partners in the consortium", explains Juan Jos Vaquero. "We are collaborating very closely with GlaxoSmithKline, whose laboratories are going to use our equipment, as well as with specialists from the Infectious Disease and Microbiology Service of Gregorio Maraon University General Hospital (Servicio de Enfermedades Infecciosas y Microbiologa del Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Maran - Madrid), who have a great deal of experience working with both the biology and the clinical aspects of tuberculosis; this facilitates the transformation of our results into clinical applications", comments the professor.

UC3M is participating in this project as a technological partner. Its contribution is focused on its role as a specialist in pre-clinical molecular imaging in animal models. The short-term goal is to develop a low-cost tomographic X-ray technique for rapid screenings. With such a technique, the scientists could follow the evolution of the disease and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments in animal models. The long term goal is to perfect this technique, including positron emission tomography (PET) in order to make it more sensitive and specific, so that it can be used to take quantitative measurements. This procedure would substitute the one that is currently being carried out in the laboratory, which is slower and more costly. To complete this substitution, changes in the imaging technology will be introduced, so that greater resolution can be obtained. "This wayVaquero explains- with just one examination, we will be able to visualize the complete lung of a rat or guinea pig, with enough detail to detect the disease at its earliest possible stage".

This is the first time the use of quantitative molecular imaging is proposed to study the disease in animal models. It carries a technological and methodological challenge, because its development requires blending various research groups: new electronic radiation detection technologies are going to be used to improve the sensitivity of the current systems and, at the same time, algorithms for image reconstruction and quantitative analysis that accompany the new electronic technology are going to be applied.

A forgotten disease

This project is centered on the so-called "forgotten diseases" or "developing countries' diseases", specifically on tuberculosis. For the last thirty years there have been no new approaches to treating this pathology. Among infectious diseases, this is the main cause of death among young adults in developing countries, particularly among the poorest ones. It is estimated that there are five million new cases every year throughout the world and that the possibility of being cured is only 60%. The efficacy of programs to fight tuberculosis continues to be burdened by the need to keep patients in treatment for 6 to 24 months. Financing and support for trials are limited.

With its participation in this project, UC3M has joined large-scale research in the area of health science. The project, which began in May of this year and is expected to last for sixty months, is being led by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and includes 21 prestigious international partners. The partners who come from private industry are: GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Janssen, Microsense Medtech and ZF Screens. Partners from the academic world are: the University of Liverpool, UC3M, Max Plank Institute, Erasmus University, Health Protection Agency UK, Institut Pasteur, St Georges University London, University of St Andrews, EPFL, Univ. of Leicester, University College of London, VU University, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Uppsala University.

Contact: Ana Herrera
Carlos III University of Madrid

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