Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ability to Detect Tuberculosis using RATS

There has recently been a new approach to test for tuberculosis. This method is fast, widely available, and cheap. It is the use of large rats to smell the bacteria in a sample. While there are many other ways of testing for tuberculosis many are much more expensive. For example, WHO just endorsed a machine that can produce results in under two hours. But the devise is extremely pricey. It costs $17,000 with an additional $17 dollar cost for each cartridge.

Currently the most common form of testing is called smear microscopy where the sample is dyed with a substance that only colors the mycobacterium tuberculosis which can then be examined under a microscope. Due to the need for a large concentrations of the bacteria these tests tend to result in 60-80% of positive cases going unnoticed.

The rat, a Gambian pouched rat, thrives in colonies all over sub-Saharan Africa. Their success rate of smelling the presence of TB was 86.6%. When looking to see there was no presence of the bacteria the rats produced a success rate of over 93%. In order to train the rats the researchers have used cognitive conditioning by providing food for the rats when they spend more than 5 seconds at a provided sample with TB which helps them learn to skip over the ones that are not affected.

While the results seem remarkable, there is still a lot of skepticism in the medical community.

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