Researchers from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), the Center for Global Infectious Disease Research – Seattle, US, and a consortium of collaborators have developed and validated a new test for tuberculosis (TB).

Named RISK6, the new blood-based test can identify healthy individuals who are at risk of developing TB. It can also identify people with subclinical or clinical disease and help understand how well a patient would respond to the treatment.

The test, which can be applied to capillary blood collected by finger prick, is currently validated in seven cohorts across two continents.

Furthermore, RISK6 could be developed into a rapid, finger prick blood-based test device that can be used at points of care.

SATVI immunology deputy director Thomas Scriba said: “Finding everyone with TB so that they can receive antibiotic treatment to get better and so that they do not infect others is critically important.

“Most people with TB are identified too late when they have already passed the bacterium to family and friends.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Global TB Report 2019, more than 1.7 billion people are infected with the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis worldwide. Among them, over ten million people developed TB, while 1.4 million died in 2018.

The existing diagnostic tools for TB can be administered only in people with advanced TB and who can produce sputum samples. Currently, there are no effective tests that identify the disease in people who are not symptomatic.

In the study, researchers also found that RISK6 has the ability to detect subclinical and clinical disease in people with and without HIV.

The team is currently working to develop a hand-held device that can perform the test immediately after blood is collected by finger prick.