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Improving the accuracy of TB testing

- Wits University

Wits scientists have developed technology that ensures the efficacy of equipment that tests for tuberculosis (TB).

Tuberculosis (TB) affects some 35-million people globally. The introduction of technology that tests for TB using molecular diagnostics was a game changer for national TB programmes.

The technology increased access to TB testing, which then improved diagnosis and treatment and ultimately inhibited further infection. However, when the World Health Organization endorsed this molecular diagnostic test, there was no quality assurance in place for checking the accuracy of the testing instruments.

A team of scientists from Wits, led by Professor Wendy Stevens and Professor Lesley Scott in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology, in collaboration with Professor Bavesh Kana from the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, developed the SmartSpot technology. SmartSpot guarantees the quality of the molecular diagnostic tests.

In South Africa, SmartSpot has been used on all 289 GeneXpert testing instruments in the national TB programme since 2011. Over a year, SmartSpot showed that 2.6% of the TB tests were inaccurate, and that test modules needed replacing.

In the absence of SmartSpot verification, 78 000 test results out of the three million tests performed at the time would have been inaccurate. This would have led to an incorrect diagnosis. As a result, some patients would have remained undiagnosed and either died or infected others, while others would have been subjected to unnecessary, costly drugs with unpleasant side effects.

This technology, developed at Wits in collaboration with local and international partners, impacts significantly on the healthcare of thousands of people and has been exported to more than 30 countries, with more in the pipeline.

Read more about the interface between healthcare, humanity and technology in Wits' new research magazine CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.