New Tactics Against an Old Enemy: Novel Approaches to the Diagnosis of TB

6 Mar 2014 - 12:15


The fourth Café Scientifique event was held on the 25th February 2014 at Green Salon of the Irma Stern Museum. The speaker was Professor Keertan Dheda, a renowned Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of the Lung Infection and Immunity Unit at the University of Cape Town. Prof Dheda gave a riveting talk on New Tactics Against an Old Enemy: Novel Approaches to the Diagnosis of Tuberculosis (TB) which stimulated great debate and discussion because TB is something that most South Africans can relate to. In his talk, he emphasised the prominence of TB in South Africa, where we have regrettably the highest population globally suffering from the disease. TB It is the commonest cause of death in South Africa and the country spends approximately 5% of its GDP in TB related ailments /patients. Adding that, TB is also the most common course of death in HIV/AIDS patients.


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The discussion briefly explored a history of TB diagnosis, treatment and a the huge unreliability of TB tests compared to other diagnostic tests such as those for HIV/AIDS. The failure is attributed to the fact that there are many TB subtypes and different forms of TB which exist in various body compartments or organs. This prevents a 'one size fits all' approach. In our bodies we may have latent or active TB, and most of the existing diagnostic tools are unable to differentiate between these. Also, in the cases of extrapulmonary TB, the microorganism is generally not found in the sputum which rules out those diagnostics.

Prof. Dheda spoke about the pros and cons of the several major ways that exist for TB diagnosis presently which are whole package detection (TB detection under microscope), Antigen detection (antibody based), Polymerase Chain Reaction, Genentech technology, QuantiFERON®-TB test and even Apopo rats that are used for TB screening!

Prof. Dheda and co-inventors (Prof Jonathan Blackburn, inter alia) have discovered various TB biomarkers in the urine, which has been patented by UCT. A spin-off company Antrum Biotech has also been formed to commercialise a gamma interferon-based diagnostic that was patented in 2008 by UCT.

Café Scientifique events are intended is to stimulate conversation among scientists and bring them together in an informal setting to encourage interaction and dissemination of ideas about their various research interests. Additional, guests are also drawn from the commercial and investments world and the general public who often provide invaluable contributions and support. Find out more about them, see the video clips and schedule for upcoming events on the Café Scientifique page.