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New Blood Test Cuts Diagnosis Time for Nontuberculous Mycobacteria Infections from Months to Hours

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 18 Mar 2024
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Image: The new platform is designed to perform blood-based diagnoses of nontuberculosis mycobacteria (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: The new platform is designed to perform blood-based diagnoses of nontuberculosis mycobacteria (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Breathing in nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) is a common experience for many people. These bacteria are present in water systems, soil, and dust all over the world and usually don't cause any problems. However, for individuals with certain underlying health conditions, these bacteria can lead to lung infections, showing symptoms similar to those of tuberculosis. Such infections can lead to chronic coughing, sometimes with blood, and scarring that increases susceptibility to respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. Diagnosing and treating these infections is a lengthy process due to the slow growth rate of the bacteria. With the number of NTM infection cases rising each year, partly due to climate change, there's a pressing need for quick and precise diagnostic methods. Researchers have now introduced a CRISPR-based testing platform capable of identifying NTM infections using blood samples, providing results in as little as two hours.

Researchers at Tulane University (New Orleans, LA, USA) developed the blood test specifically to detect mycobacteria avium complex (MAC), which is one of the most common types of NTM and the leading cause of NTM lung disease. The test works by identifying NTM DNA fragments in the blood. Unlike current diagnostic methods, which require growing the slow-developing bacteria over an extended period, this test offers a quicker solution. Considering there are over 190 species of NTM, identifying the correct infection can be challenging. The researchers demonstrated that their blood test successfully identified NTM infections in over 93% of affected patients. Going forward, the team plans to broaden the range of detectable NTM species using CRISPR and to develop tests that can be administered at the point of care for quicker NTM detection.

“NTM infection is highly underestimated, and due to the slow diagnosis of it, patients with NTM infection are not effectively treated,” said Bo Ning, assistant professor of molecular biology at Tulane University School of Medicine. “Importantly, our blood test can analyze NTM DNA fragments in the bloodstream, thereby inferring a drug response, which is crucial for rapidly determining treatment plans, capabilities traditional diagnostic approaches cannot achieve.”

“Not only can our blood test provide same-day results, this test can be quickly performed in any clinics where blood can be drawn and does not require specialized training or equipment needed to analyze bacteria cultures,” added Ning.

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