Chips, drones, algorithms & more

Happy 2021 Newsletter

Computers vs Tuberculosis

In rural India and other places where tuberculosis is rampant, A.I. that scans lung X-rays might eliminate the scourge. The app, called qXR, is one of many A.I.-based tools that have emerged over the past few years for screening and diagnosing TB. The tools offer hope of flagging the disease early and cutting the cost of unnecessary lab tests. Used at a large scale, they may also spot emerging clusters of disease. The app identifies TB with an accuracy of 95 percent, according to Qure.ai’s chief executive, Prashant Warier.

Read the full story: These Algorithms Could Bring an End to the World’s Deadliest Killer


Let the bacteria starve

While drugs are available to treat tuberculosis, like so many other bacterial infections the disease is becoming more and more resistant to the best medications currently on offer. Scientists at Canada’s University of Guelph have uncovered a promising new pathway in the development of novel drugs, describing what they call a newly-discovered “keyhole” that can be targeted to starve tuberculosis-causing bacteria of the sustenance they need to survive.

The University of Guelph team used the Canadian Light Source synchrotron to image these bacteria, which enabled them to identify the structure of an enzyme called acyl CoA dehydrogenase that is key to this steroid breakdown. This led them to create a picture of a “keyhole” that drugs would need to fit into to inactivate the enzyme, which they say provides a new target for the development of treatments for tuberculosis. The scientists see starving the disease-causing bacteria as a particularly promising technique, and one that could even apply to treatment of other conditions such as inflammation and cancer.

Read the full story: Newly found "keyhole" could starve the bacteria behind tuberculosis


TB Vaccine to mitigate COVID infection?

A widely used tuberculosis vaccine is associated with reduced likelihood of contracting COVID-19 (coronavirus), according to a new study by Cedars-Sinai. They found that workers who had received BCG vaccinations in the past-nearly 30% of those studied-were significantly less likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in their blood or to report having had infections with coronavirus or coronavirus-associated symptoms over the prior six months than those who had not received BCG. These effects were not related to whether workers had received meningococcal, pneumococcal or influenza vaccinations.

While noting that no one believes BCG will be more effective than a specific vaccine for COVID-19, Arditi explained that it could be more quickly approved and made available, given that it has a strong safety profile demonstrated by many years of use. "It is a potentially important bridge that could offer some benefit until we have the most effective and safe COVID19 vaccines made widely available," he said.

Read the full story: TB Vaccine Linked to Lower Risk of Contracting COVID-19


Ask Chip

Scientists have developed a lung-on-chip model to study how the body responds to early tuberculosis (TB) infection. While TB mostly affects adults, there are currently no effective vaccines available to this group. This is partly due to challenges with studying the early stages of infection, which take place when just one or two M. tuberculosis bacteria are deposited deep inside the lung.

"We created the lung-on-chip model as a way of studying some of these early events," explains lead author Vivek Thacker.

"Our work shines a light on the early events that take place during TB infection and provides a model for scientists to build on for future research into other respiratory infections," says senior author John McKinney, Head of the Laboratory of Microbiology and Microtechnology at EPFL. "It also paves the way for experiments that increase the complexity of our model to help understand why some TB lesions progress while others heal, which can occur at the same time in the same patient. This knowledge could one day be harnessed to develop effective new interventions against TB and other diseases."

Read the full story: Lung-on-chip provides new insight on body's response to early tuberculosis infection


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Drone Therapy

Drone therapy for tuberculosis diagnosis in Nepal’s remote and hard to reach mountains has won at the 2020 International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) Sustainability Awards. Drone Optimised Therapy System (DrOTS) by Nepal Flying Labs links rural health posts with high-end diagnostic tools via drones to improve the accessibility of tuberculosis diagnostic tests. Under DrOTS, drones fly from a central district hospital to health posts in the mountains to collect sputum samples and deliver both diagnoses and treatment to patients living in up-country villages. The samples are tested using a high-end GenExpert kit. If they are positive, patients are given DOTS (directly observed treatment short course) treatment using smart pillboxes, which keep electronic records of whether or not patients have taken the antibiotics regularly.

The goal of this project is to assist Nepal’s Ministry of Health in generating data on tuberculosis and support it in its efforts to reduce the prevalence of the infection. The DrOTS test flight was conducted successfully in Piuthan district in western Nepal last year. Since then, over 106 flights have been carried out, collecting and delivering more than 742 sputum samples, with a result of 26 positive cases from eight remote health facilities. The technology has also been used for TB control in Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea.

Read the full story: Nepal anti-TB drone project awarded


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