Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection caused by the inhalation of tiny droplets, typically from coughs or sneezes. It primarily affects the lungs and the respiratory system but it can spread to other areas of the body. It is a disease that can be cured with a substantial quantity of antibiotics.
The problem with tuberculosis is trying to work out which drugs will be most effective against different strains of the disease. This means that often the bacteria, mycobacterium tuberculosis, are resistant to the drugs prescribed.
However, it is thought that different strains of the disease can be isolated using genome sequencing (looking at the DNA of the bacteria). By identifying the particular strain of the disease, drugs can be matched up straight away. This therefore means that instead of waiting weeks, maybe even months for the correct drugs, the individual can be diagnosed in about a week. Chances of recovery will thus be much higher. This breakthrough has the potential to ‘save lives’ thanks to researchers in Oxford and Birmingham.
The quicker treatment can begin, the less chance there is of the tuberculosis spreading to other parts of the body and becoming much more dangerous. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is confident that this breakthrough can lead us in the right direction towards eradicating TB from our country.