Launched in 2004, Rosetta will be the first spacecraft ever to conduct scientific measurements on the surface of a comet. The Rosetta Lander includes a shoe-box sized gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC-MS), known as Ptolemy, which will analyse small pieces of the comets nucleus to identify what it is made from and answer questions about the make up of the early Solar System and whether comets may have been the source of water and the building blocks of life on Earth.
Dr Morgan believes that they can adapt Rosetta's technology to develop a GC-MS capable of detecting TB in sputum with greater sensitivity than smear microscopy and significantly quicker than the alternative culture methods. The process could be automated, meaning that skilled laboratory technicians would not be needed, and would not need to be carried out in a special laboratory, making the technology more widely available in the places that need it most.
"Chemicals have their own unique 'signature'," says Dr Morgan. "The bacterium that causes TB has a special coating and it is the pattern of chemicals in this coating that the mass spectrometer will be 'searching' for."
Dr Morgan will work with clinical partners Dr. Liz Corbett and Dr. Ruth McNerney from the LSHTM and Dr Conrad Bessant from the Bioinformatics Group at Cranfield University to optimise and validate the technique. In the second year of its development, the device will be trialled in the field, in Zimbabwe, where Dr Corbett is based.
"We urgently need an accurate and cost effective method of diagnosing TB," says Dr Corbett, a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Fellow in Tropical Medicine. " At the moment, because diagnosis is not accurate, people with TB may have to be seen up to 10 times before they can be started on TB treatment. They may be infectious throughout this period and, especially if they also have HIV, at considerable risk of dying before their diagnosis is made."
|Contact: Craig Brierley|