Monday, March 23, 2009
Currently, it takes weeks or even months to identify and diagnose different strains of the tuberculosis bacterium. Soon, thanks to research done at Pitt and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the process may take as little as a few hours. Dr. Graham Hatfull of Pitt says tiny viruses called bacteriophages infused with a flourescent green gene are the secret behind the speed of this new test. "We can take samples of T.B., add these bacteriophages, allow them to inject their DNA [into the T.B. cells], and we can now see the T.B. cells because they flouresce. They glow green," says Hatfull. In addition, by adding known tuberculosis antibiotics to the bacteriophages, scientists can determine what strains of bacteria the drugs work against -- and those against which they don't work. Though some strains of T.B. are untreatable, Hatfull says it is just as important to identify these victims as well as those they can help. "What is currently happening is they are spreading [untreatable strains] to other patients while they are in the clinic waiting for diagnosis or waiting for treatment," says Hatfull. "At least those patients could be isolated." Hatfull says this method of testing needs to undergo some length of clinical trials, but it should be ready to use as soon as it is deemed safe and practical.