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Scientists take step toward simple and portable tuberculosis tests for developing world
Date:10/8/2009

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8Two billion people worldwide carry the pathogen that causes tuberculosis (TB), and most of them do not even know they are infected. This is because some 90 percent of people with TB have "latent" infections. They have no symptoms, they can't spread the disease to others and the bug remains dormant in their lungs -- often for years.

Detecting latent TB infections is an important public health problem because those 10 percent of people who go on to develop full-blown "active" TB will, in turn, infect another 10-15 people per year on average. Such smoldering spread is one of the reasons why TB remains the seventh-leading cause of death worldwide, killing more than 1.5 million people every year.

Now a group of researchers at Colorado State University (CSU) has demonstrated a sensitive new way to use light to detect traces of TB bacteria in fluids. Their work, described by CSU graduate student Barbara Smith at the Optical Society's (OSA) Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics (FiO), next week in San Jose, Calif., may one day help health care workers identify people who are latently infected. Moreover, the technology may be amenable for widespread use in the developing world, where most cases of TB occur.

What is missing from the public health tool chest, says CSU professor Diego Krapf, who led the research, is a technique that can be used to widely detect TB in those places where it is most prevalent.

Krapf, Smith and their colleagues have developed a technique that can sensitively detect different molecular markers indicating a TB infection that would be cheap to use and no harder to administer than a common pregnancy test, making it ideal for use in the developing world. The Colorado researchers envision a device that would simply require someone to smear a drop of blood or urine on a glass slide, insert it into a machine and read a simple display that would indicate whether that person is infected or not.


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Contact: Angela Stark
astark@osa.org
202-416-1443
Optical Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

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