Reuters News Agency, Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Leicester, England - British scientists have developed a quick test that can detect tuberculosis in two or three hours instead of weeks.
It uses DNA fingerprinting techniques to confirm new outbreaks of the highly infectious disease without hours of receiving a sample.
"We have already used the test many times to confirm that an outbreak has been controlled," Professor Mike Barer of the University of Leicester said on Tuesday.
The professor of microbiology, who presented his research at a British science conference, used DNA microarray technology to take fingerprints of strains of the Mycobacterum tuberculosis (Mtb) bacterium that causes TB.
The 400 genes that make up the genome of the bacterium were mapped in 1998. Prof. Barer and his team used the test during an outbreak of TB in the central English town of Leicester last year when 24 cases of the virulent infection, which was centered on a school, were confirmed.
"The emerging DNA technology we have applied here has compressed the time scale between fundamental and applied research. Not only do we have a potentially valuable tool for outbreak management but we can now start tracking and understanding the evolution of a major pathogen in near real time," Prof. Barer said.
The disease was once a major killer in Britain but it declined in the 20th century with improvements in living standards.
Tuberculosis, which is spread by coughing and sneezing, destroys the lungs and causes death through asphyxiation. Despite effective treatment, 1.5 million people worldwide still die from it each year.
The World Health Organisation is attempting to eradicate the disease but it is still rampant in many countries, particularly in Asia and Africa.
An increase in air travel and more foreign visitors have caused a rise in the number of TB cases in Britain.