Bringing cheap and accurate tuberculosis tests to Africa

Since the 1970s, millions of women have appreciated the ease of a urine-based home pregnancy test to find out if their family is about to grow.

A diagnostic test that’s just as accurate and easy to use would make a big impact in the war on tuberculosis. With more than 10 million affected people worldwide, many of them in Africa, the annual market for such a test is estimated at about 75 million — but only if it costs as little as $2 apiece.

David Beebe and his colleagues think they can deliver on that.

“We’ve come up with a robust, simple and inexpensive way to increase the sensitivity of an existing TB test by integrating a concentration enrichment step into a protocol that’s very similar to the familiar pregnancy test,” says Beebe, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “And we think this new technology may soon not only detect TB in urine, but also diagnose many other conditions in both the developing and developed world.”

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