Innovative Blood Test To Predict Tuberculosis Risk Developed, Center For Infectious Disease Research Researchers Reveal

Published: Mar 25, 2016

Researchers Develop Innovative Blood Test To Predict Risk Of Developing The Tuberculosis Disease

SEATTLE--()--Scientists at the Center for Infectious Disease Research, the largest independent nonprofit in the U.S. focused solely on infectious disease research, and the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) (University of Cape Town) recently developed an important blood test that can predict whether a latent (asymptomatic) Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection is likely to develop into active tuberculosis disease (TB). These blood biomarkers can predict development of disease by measuring the expression of specific RNAs, which measure gene activity, in the blood. The group’s findings were published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, and could be developed into a diagnostic for large-scale efforts to screen and preventatively treat the disease.

Although the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection affects one third of the global population, 90 percent of this infected population will never develop active TB. This innovative biomarker test can identify the majority of individuals that will progress to active TB at a 10 to 20 percent false positive rate. “This discovery could help develop a diagnostic that would narrow the detection and treatment gap for tuberculosis, impacting how the global health community approaches this epidemic,” said Dan Zak, PhD, an assistant professor at the Center for Infectious Disease Research.

Scientists studied RNA expression patterns in blood samples obtained from a study of more than 6,000 teenagers infected with Mtb from Worcester, South Africa, who were followed for more than two years to identify who progressed to active TB disease. The identification of the blood biomarkers that prospectively predict the progression of the infection to TB were then confirmed using samples obtained from a separate study of 4,500 adults from South Africa and The Gambia assembled through an international collaboration between several countries. “The test can predict progression to TB more than one year before disease manifests, which provides a window of opportunity to use treatment to prevent the disease,” said Professor Willem Hanekom, principal investigator of the study.

The biomarker blood test, which consists of a set of blood RNAs measured by PCR, will soon be evaluated in a clinical trial to determine if targeted preventive therapy can prevent individuals at risk from developing TB. These findings could allow for screen and treat campaigns to be implemented on a large scale, preventing the Mtb infection from progressing and changing how the global community responds to this epidemic.

This discovery is the culmination of a series of research projects over the past 10 years with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the European Union and the South African Medical Research Council.

The full manuscript detailing the researchers’ findings, titled “A blood RNA signature for tuberculosis disease risk: a prospective cohort study,” was published in the March 23, 2016 edition of The Lancet, a leading medical journal.

To learn more about tuberculosis research at the Center, please visit

To learn more about the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, please visit:

About the Center for Infectious Disease Research

The Center for Infectious Disease Research – based in Seattle, Wash. – is the largest independent, nonprofit organization in the U.S. focused solely on infectious disease research. Our mission is to make transformative scientific advancements that lead to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. We advance the science to develop vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria that claim the lives of millions of people every year. With your support in advancing our research we seek to build a healthier, more hopeful world. For more information, visit


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