Thursday, September 18, 2008

Prize for Tuberculosis?


Something that we announced as part of our Alternative Energy Forum at MIT was that we are starting to look into prizes that we could do based around better diagnosing tuberculosis. Now, before I get into this post, I want everyone to know that I am not what you'd call an expert in this area. In fact, two weeks ago, I knew nothing about tuberculosis. However, I have an internet connection and know how to use Wikipedia. So I'm going to talk a bit about why tuberculosis is such a problem, and why we need a prize, specifically to diagnose tuberculosis.

First, what is tuberculosis? According to Wikipedia:

"Tuberculosis (abbreviated as TB for tubercle bacillus or Tuberculosis) is a common and often deadly infectious disease caused by mycobacteria, mainly Mycobacterium tuberculosis [1]. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs (as pulmonary TB) but can also affect the central nervous system, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the genitourinary system, the gastrointestinal system, bones, joints, and even the skin. Other mycobacteria such as Mycobacterium bovis, Mycobacterium africanum, Mycobacterium canetti, and Mycobacterium microti also cause tuberculosis, but these species are less common."

Some facts about TB, which may well be out of date. Please update if you know better.

The mortality rate for people with untreated active TB is more than 50%

Approximately one third of the world’s population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is the world’s second deadliest infectious disease — following HIV/AIDS — responsible for the deaths of nearly 1.6 million people each year. As the leading infectious killer of people living with HIV/AIDS, TB deaths have quadrupled over the past 15 years in African countries suffering the highest rates of TB/HIV co-infection.


With all of the awful statistics I've just listed, the saddest part of this is that there is a cure for tuberculosis ready and waiting. The reason that so many people die from this disease is that diagnosing it in third world countries is extraordinarily difficult.

Currently, it takes 3 weeks to get results back for a TB diagnosis in the developing world. Patients have to come in several days in a row to give a saliva sample, and then wait. 10-15% of the patients never come back to receive the results of their test. Untreated, or if treated too late, tuberculosis is deadly.

So it is vital for a fast, easy diagnosis to be created that can be used in the field, and deliver results quickly. So that's why we're exploring ideas for tuberculosis diagnosis.

Here are some resources to check out if you're interested in learning more about TB.

http://www.medicinenet.com/tuberculosis/article.htm
http://www.cdc.gov/tb/faqs/default.htm
http://www.who.int/topics/tuberculosis/en/


If anyone has other information about TB, or if anything I've said is wrong, PLEASE leave a comment and let me know. This is just based on some reading and research online.

Thanks everyone!

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