TB, or not TB? At last, a urine test can diagnose it quickly

Assessing symptoms

A urine test for tuberculosis could make it much easier to identify the disease and treat it before it kills.

There were more than 10 million new TB infections in 2016, and the condition killed 1.7 million people. In around 40 per cent of cases, the infection isn’t identified until symptoms become obvious.

TB is currently diagnosed using a skin test, or by culturing bacteria from a person’s sputum. But both these methods take days to give results, and can only be performed by trained microbiologists.

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Now Alessandra Luchini, of George Mason University in Virginia, and her team have developed a urine test for TB that gives results in 12 hours. The test detects a certain sugar that coats the surface of TB bacteria, which usually ends up in infected people’s urine in low concentrations.

The test uses tiny molecular cages embedded with a special dye that can catch and trap these sugar molecules. This makes the test capable of detecting the sugar at low concentrations, making it the technique as much as 1000 times more accurate as previous methods for detecting TB in urine.

When the team tested their technique, they correctly identified 48 people with TB. Luchini now wants to make the test easier to use, and test it on thousands more people. If all goes well, it could be available within three years, she says.

Journal reference: Science Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aal2807

Read more: Two new drug therapies might cure every form of tuberculosis

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