After speaking about new tools to diagnose TB and other diseases, Giorgio Roscigno, MD, walked off the stage at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene last week in Atlanta only to face a long line of people waiting to talk with him. He stayed until organizers of the next session finally had to shoo him out of the room.
These are heady times for Roscigno. His Geneva-based group, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), has helped shepherd a series of new discoveries, including one pending TB test that several experts believe could revolutionize the treatment and care of the ancient disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) will be convening a group of experts later this month in Geneva to talk about the recommendation and implementation of the GeneXpert device, which has correctly detected the TB bacterium within 90 minutes in about 98 percent of people with an active form of the disease.
If recommended by WHO, the new test will replace one 125 years old in many settings, and will dramatically cut the time of diagnosis for multi-drug resistant TB. Now, it can take several months for a diagnosis. The test was developed by a group of partners, including FIND, Cepheid (maker of the GeneXpert), the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases.
Roscigno, who will deliver a keynote address on Saturday at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease in Berlin about the history of TB diagnostics, said in an interview that the test is part of a new and growing trend in global health in which new technologies are being introduced at about the same time in developed and developing countries.
“This is remarkable,” he said. “In the past, it would take 10 to 20 years to get new technologies to the developing world.”
The GeneXpert device, though, “is not the end of the story.”
“We’re committed to taking this technology much further and to continue its quest for new technologies,” Roscigno said.
What that means: FIND will be helping develop a manual and an inexpensive version of the device that could be used in communities far from big city hospitals, and, on a separate track, to use the same device to test for other diseases such as sleeping sickness, HIV (viral loads) and other sexually transmitted infections.
“We are moving very quickly now in the field of diagnostics,” Roscigno said. “For more than 100 years, we had almost nothing happen. Now, in the last four years, we have seen all these new discoveries. We hope to see more very soon – just the next few years. It’s very exciting.”
Roscigno had to run to another meeting. More people were waiting for him.