The driving force behind the rapid tuberculosis test that received World Health Organization endorsement this week is Dr. David Alland, chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. The test, which uses DNA technology to diagnose tuberculosis in less than two hours, will be widely distributed to countries around the world. WHO says the new test "represents new hope for the millions of people who are at the highest risk of TB and drug-resistant disease."
The testing technology that it replaces, which is 125 years old, is far less reliable and requires three months to produce a diagnosis. The quicker and more accurate diagnoses produced by Allands test will allow healthcare providers to begin tuberculosis treatment far sooner, sharply reducing the risk that infected individuals will spread the disease to others. It also will lead to more effective treatment of individual patients by telling clinicians whether disease-causing bacteria are drug-resistant.
Alland began work on the screening test, which is called Xpert MTB/RIF (Mycobacterium tuberculosis/resistance to rifampin), more than a decade ago. The test took four years to develop, followed by the process of attracting funding to refine and manufacture it and then conducting the clinical trials that established its effectiveness. Financial support has come from the National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Allands collaborators have been Cepheid, Inc., and FIND, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics.
WHOs endorsement of the test has been applauded by public health agencies including the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.