04 April 2019

5 latest developments in TB research

Researchers are working hard to make progress in the fight against tuberculosis. Let's take a look a look at the latest research and developments.

TB is a chronic infectious disease that affects mainly the lungs. It is highly contagious and can spread by means of airborne bacteria or saliva drops when someone coughs or sneezes.

World TB Day, which was observed recently, falls on 24 March, as on this date in 1882 Dr Robert Koch discovered the TB bacillus.

South Africa has one of the highest burdens of TB in the world with an alarming 500 000 cases of active TB in 2011, according to a 2018 report.

Because of this tremendous burden, researchers are working hard to make progress toward containing the disease. Let's look back at the latest developments made to help fight TB:

1. Two women fight ‘big pharma’ and the world’s deadliest disease

Two women, one from Mumbai and one from Khayelitsha, teamed up after both surviving TB, to oppose the patenting of a drug that doesn't lead to hearing loss in TB patients.

Hearing loss is a devastating side effect of standard medicines used to treat drug resistant TB. Unfortunately, the drug bedaquiline, that doesn't cost people their hearing, would remain out of the reach of many people if the patent were extended. The two women are therefore opposing a further monopoly on this drug, making it more accessible to those who need it.

One in three patients suffers partial to complete deafness from standard TB treatments, and only half of those who manage to complete the two-year-long course of these toxic drugs can expect to be cured.

2. Drug-resistant TB can be cured in less than half the time, new study shows

A study published earlier in March 2019 found that drug resistant TB can be cured in less than half the time, improving the chances that patients will actually complete their treatment.

According to this article, South Africa is already ahead of the pack, having introduced a shorter course with the new drug bedaquiline, replacing the drug that involves hearing loss and other unwanted side-effects.

3. WHO follows SA’s bold example with New TB treatment

In August 2018, the WHO announced that they would follow South Africa’s bold step of shelving the previous injectable drug and introducing all-oral bedaquiline, the drug that will not cause hearing loss.

4. New TB test takes 30 minutes and costs R40

In 2017 Health24 reported on a quicker, simpler test for tuberculosis for people living with HIV in South Africa. The new test uses urine and is more effective than the previous test involving sputum.

This specific test is especially used for people with low immunity and low CD4 counts. South Africa has one of the largest burdens of people living with HIV while also suffering from TB. According to the report, people are often too sick and weak to provide sputum when they need results and subsequent treatment as quickly as possible.

At the time, researchers in Sweden were already working on an even more sensitive version of the test to be used on all patients regardless of their health status. This test can detect TB more quickly and save more lives.

5. SA researchers find urine test better for rapid TB testing

The rapid test mentioned above wouldn’t have been possible if it weren't for local researchers at UCT. A study conducted a while back determined that using urine for a TB test was more useful in patients with compromised immune systems.

Image credit: iStock