Discovery of TB blood test for detection of many silent spreaders

Integrated plasma proteomics reveals biomarkers for tuberculosis diagnosis.


Researchers from University of Southampton discovered blood markers that could identify millions of people unintentionally spreading TB. It is hoped that this finding may result in an easy-to-use test to identify and halt the disease’s spread, which impacts about 10 million people annually. 

Tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease, killing over a million people yearly, as per the World Health Organization. Researchers from the University of Southampton and global experts conducted a detailed analysis of blood markers for TB. 

Their investigation, reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight, found six reliable proteins for tuberculosis detection. The lead author, Dr. Hannah Schiff, a respiratory specialist at Southampton, noted that almost three million cases were overlooked in the previous year, mostly in developing countries.

Lead author Dr Hannah Schiff, a respiratory expert at Southampton, said, “TB remains a global catastrophe because our efforts to control the spread are hindered by inadequate testing, which is slow and reliant on specialist equipment and labs.”

“A third of people who get infected go undiagnosed and remain infectious. In our study, we combined a new measurement technique with deep mathematical analysis to identify these six new markers of TB disease.”

“It could lead to a transformative alternative to diagnosing the condition—a simple test that detects proteins in the bloodstream whose levels differ between people with TB, healthy individuals, and those suffering from other respiratory illnesses,” she added.

Tiny droplets from infected people’s coughing or sneezing can spread tuberculosis (TB), which usually affects the lungs but can affect any area of the body. In the UK, cases increased to around 5,000 last year, and the trend is expected to continue in 2024, according to the UK Health Security Agency. The University of Southampton conducted the study with experts from the University of Cape Town in South Africa and Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru. 

The report was released on March 24, World TB Day, to increase awareness and step up efforts to end the global TB pandemic.

Researchers analyzed blood proteins from individuals with active TB in Africa and South America, comparing them to proteins in healthy individuals and those with lung infections. They discovered 118 proteins that showed significant differences.

They discovered six proteins that may be used to differentiate between patients with infectious tuberculosis and healthy people or people suffering from lung disorders. The Southampton study co-director, Dr. Diana Garay-Baquero, proposed that these results help create a simple tuberculosis test akin to the COVID lateral flow testing.

She stressed the importance of creating such tests to identify the millions unknowingly spreading TB, highlighting the risk of neglecting highly infectious airborne diseases, as evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ongoing research efforts in developing a TB blood test represent a crucial step forward in the fight against tuberculosis. They’ve found certain things in the blood that could help make a simple test to find TB. Finding those who have tuberculosis but are unaware of it could be significantly aided. Additionally, it might impact how tuberculosis impacts people’s health globally.

Journal reference:

  1. Hannah F. Schiff,1 Naomi F. Walker et al., Integrated plasma proteomics identifies tuberculosis-specific diagnostic biomarkers. JCI Insight. DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.173273.
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