A tool to monitor tuberculosis

Female scientist pipetting
DNA sequencing allows clinicians to quickly find out what strain of tuberculosis they are dealing with. PHOTO: Wellcome Sanger Institute

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Tuberculosis kills over 1.5 million people a year. But what if there was a global monitoring tool that could help clinicians diagnose and recommend treatment?

Tuberculosis (TB) causes more deaths worldwide than any other infection. Reading the DNA of an infecting M. tuberculosis strain provides a digital fingerprint. This could inform a clinician which drugs will or will not work. If shared appropriately, the information can also advise health services about the spread of drug resistance.

Global TB monitoring

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced it is awarding funding to 18 projects that hope to identify innovative research solutions to help the world’s most vulnerable people. One of the projects chosen, entitled ARGENT, aims to pilot a global TB monitoring service.

The ARGENT project is a collaboration between the Supranational TB Laboratory for South America, based in Buenos Aires at INEI-ANLIS “Malbran”, and EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). What is the aim of the project? Implement a tuberculosis DNA analysis workflow. In parallel, the researchers will trial a global TB monitoring service that automatically compares new samples to a global database.

A pilot study

“Genetics has the potential to change the way we diagnose and treat tuberculosis,” explains Zamin Iqbal, Research Group Leader at EMBL-EBI. “We hope that this collaboration will enable us to develop a tool that helps clinicians and researchers in the field to track and treat this deadly disease.”

The 18-month project has been funded as part of UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund Innovation and Commercialisation programme. The project arose from CABANA, a capacity strengthening project for bioinformatics in Latin America, also funded by the GCRF in 2017.

“This is a really exciting opportunity to fund 18 projects through the Global Research Translation awards,” said Helen Fletcher, UKRI Director of International Development. “Each and every one will make a massive difference to peoples’ lives in communities spread across the world to ensure some of the most challenged communities have a brighter future.”

This post was originally published on EMBL-EBI News.