Daily Dispatch

New study aims to shorten TB cure time


TB PATIENTS could soon be cured in less than six months if the research proposed by Stellenbos­ch University’s medicine and health sciences faculty is successful.

The new project, Predict-TB, aims to significan­tly cut the treatment duration in the majority of patients.

Currently TB patients have to go through a treatment course of six months and, according to the university, 95% of patients that finish this course are cured and only 80% to 85% of patients that do shorter courses are cured.

Medicine and health sciences faculty spokeswoma­n Wilma Stassen said most patients were cured after four months but they currently did not know beforehand which patients belonged to that group.

“If it were possible to identify those patients who only require fourmonth therapy, then profession­als would be able to reduce treatment duration in the vast majority of patients,” she said.

Typically, the six-month treatment programme often leads to defaulting because of the length of time.

This can result in the developmen­t of multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extensivel­y drug resistant (XDR) TB.

Treatment for this can take up to two years, it is more complex, more expensive and more toxic – and only 50% of those treated survive.

Stellenbos­ch University’s Professor Gerhard Walzl and Professor Clifton Barry from the US National Institutes of Health will, for the next five years, lead a group that is planning to develop a smart set of treatments.

The group will also conduct clinical trials in South Africa and China, looking at demographi­c, radiograph­ic, bacteriolo­gic and immunologi­c parameters.

“This new method, if successful, could be a true game changer, advancing treatment standards from the current practice of ‘one size fits all’ to precision-guided, individual­ised therapy, which would allow for shortened treatment in a significan­t proportion of drug-sensitive TB patients,” Stassen said.

Eastern Cape health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department was pleased to know about the research.

“TB is one of the killer diseases despite it being curable.

“One of our challenges is a defaulter rate, which increases the MDR and XDR burden,” said Kupelo.

The Predict-TB project will receive over million (R275.9-million) funding from the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnershi­p, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and China Ministry of Science and Technology. —

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