Breakthrough in battle against resistant TB

A cutting-edge technique developed by Wellcome-funded researchers in Oxford means that tuberculosis (TB) can now be diagnosed much faster and more accurately.

A chest X-ray showing scarring of the lungs
A coloured chest X-ray showing scarring of the lungs (in green) after a case of chronic TB.
Credit: Du Cane Medical Imaging Ltd/Science Photo Library

The researchers' method uses whole genome sequencing to quickly assess which strains of TB a patient is infected with. Patients will receive their diagnosis in just over a week, rather than waiting up to a month. 

This will improve treatments and help reduce the spread of drug-resistant infections.

It will also be possible to improve identification and treatment of other resistant pathogens.

The news comes as World TB Day marks global efforts to eliminate a disease that infects 10 million people and kills 1.5 million each year. The spread of resistant strains of TB are of particular concern. In 2015, an estimated 480,000 people worldwide developed multidrug-resistant TB.

Tim Jinks, Wellcome’s Head of Drug Resistant Infection, said: "New tools for faster and more accurate diagnosis of infections are vital, so patients get the most appropriate and most effective treatments, and to help us track and stop drug resistant infection spreading."

Professor Derrick Crook, Head of Oxford’s Modernising Microbiology team, said: "We are immensely proud of the contribution this makes to the prospects of better treatment of TB globally. This approach will also increasingly be used for many other infectious diseases. Our ambition is to achieve this as quickly as possible so many infections can be better diagnosed and treated."

The research was also funded by Public Health England, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MRC Newton Fund Genomics England, and the National Institute for Health Research.

To find out more read the University of Oxford press release.