A revolutionary new test for identifying people infected with tuberculosis (TB), one of the leading causes of death worldwide, will shortly be launched by Oxford Immunotec Ltd, a new Oxford University spin-off company. The test radically improves the speed and accuracy with which the disease can be identified. It has been developed to replace the existing skin test for TB, which is given to 600,000 UK schoolchildren every year.
Oxford Immunotecs test has come from discoveries made over the last seven years at the University of Oxford by Dr Ajit Lalvani and collaborators at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital. A replacement for the 100-year-old skin test is long overdue but, until now, there has not been a better way of diagnosing infection.
The Oxford Immunotec test is based on patented technology which provides a simple and extremely accurate way of studying a person’s cellular immune response to an infection. Every time someone becomes infected with a disease, the body produces specific cells (white blood cells) to fight the infection. The new test looks to see if the body has produced these cells in response to TB and monitors how their numbers change over time. In this way, it is possible to determine if a person is infected and whether they are effectively fighting the infection. This powerful technique can be used not only for diagnosis of infections, but also for prognosis of disease and monitoring of treatment.
Crucially, the Oxford Immunotec test will also make it possible to accurately identify people who are carrying TB infection, but who have not yet gone on to develop disease. Diagnosing and treating infected people before they go on to develop severe disease and infect others is essential to prevent the spread of TB and save lives. TB kills between two and three million people each year, and the death toll is increasing. TB in the UK has risen almost every year for the last 15 years, with 6,500 newly diagnosed cases each year.
Barbara Hott | alfa
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