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Tuberculosis sensor that fits in your pocket

by Bruno Van de Casteele

December 1, 2013

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Donate Tuberculosis is one of those illnesses about which we shouldn't have to talk a lot. Even though we don't really understand the bacterium for 100% (I wrote about that earlier), it's a perfectly treatable disease. Given some extra effort and money, especially in developing countries, there shouldn't be too many cases left. And according to the most recent report by the WHO (World Health Organisation) there is some hope. There was an increased infection rate at the beginning of this millennium but the trend is again (in most places) downward. India remains a case for concern: the number of new infections is not decreasing as fast as the rest of the world, and because of the large population, total number of infections is the highest in absolute numbers in this country.

Two million deaths each year worldwide is still way too much. The WHO report lists as it first priority to keep going the downward trend the need to detect new infections early. Last year, 3 million infects were missed. These "missed cases" must be found earlier, with tests that are more rapid and that can work in remote locations at a cheaper cost.

The Pocket project, headed by professor Bienstman from Ghent, aims to develop such a low-cost treatment that should be able to detect TB in very early stages. Joined by IMEC, the chip research institute (who also made this cool lens/display prototype) and supported by European funding, it is one of those projects that aims to solve those "missed cases" that the WHO wants to prioritize on. They will do so by analyzing the urine of suspected patients, analyzing the fluid for presence of TB antigens. If the project delivers on its promise, then its clear that such a tool will have an impact on the spread of the disease. And as the name implies, this detection tool will indeed fit in your pocket.

You can follow the project on their website (open since today). I hope it really makes a difference, but it's only one small piece to the puzzle. Maybe if we continue the positive trend we can dam in the disease before the multiresistant tb bacteria become too powerful. We lost some time at the beginning of this millennium, let's hope we can catch up.

To celebrate my one year of blogging at Skeptoid, I'm revisiting this month some of the topics I discussed here during the last year. Not necessarily a follow-up, but a way to show that science keeps progressing. Because, you know, science actually works!

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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