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EURAMET research supports the faster diagnosis of tuberculosis

Tuberculosis diagnosis

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tuberculosis (TB) is one of the top ten causes of death worldwide. In 2018 a total of 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis, and even today multidrug resistance to this deadly disease remains a public health challenge.

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria, which most often affect the lungs. While it is curable, TB can easily spread from person to person through the air. In the developing world, where rates of TB are generally higher, doctors are faced with relying on insensitive or inefficient diagnostic techniques to detect the disease – a problem that has led to frequent unnecessary or over-prescription of antibiotics.

This has driven the global phenomenon of antibiotic resistance – where antibiotic drugs have gradually become ineffective against many strains of disease-causing bacteria. In 2018, the WHO observed thousands of new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, where pathogens were found to be unresponsive to a range of medications.

Within EURAMET’s European Metrology Research Programmes, measurement scientists have worked to develop new measurement methods and materials to aid easier and more accurate detection of disease-causing pathogens in clinical samples. This will help doctors perform faster and more robust TB diagnoses, and in turn, lessen the impact of misused antibiotics.

Modern laboratories commonly use an analysis technique called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to detect tuberculosis-causing pathogens. PCR techniques can identify the presence of a given pathogen within hours, and the method also does not require specialised laboratories.

However, the reliable comparison and assessment of a laboratory’s disease diagnostic capabilities, to ensure that PCR techniques are consistently accurate, presents a scientific measurement challenge. Research under EURAMET’s European Metrology Research Programme (EMRP) has therefore focused on the development and validation of new, highly accurate digital forms of the PCR technique (digital PCR) - to provide measurement traceability for clinical PCR techniques and enable performance evaluations of TB diagnostic tools in countries around the world.

By increasing confidence in the accuracy of TB testing, European measurement science research has helped to pave the way for slowing the development of drug resistant bacteria - as well as supporting a more harmonised and efficient approach for monitoring infectious diseases around the globe.

To read the full EMRP case study referred to in this story, please follow this link: Faster TB diagnosis


This EMRP joint research project is part of EURAMET’s European Metrology Research Programme. The EMRP is jointly funded by the EMRP participating countries within EURAMET and the European Union.

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