In China, many children were vaccinated to protect against bone tuberculosis in the 1980s and 1990s. However, skin-based tuberculin tests generally produce false positives. "ELISpot-based tests have also been found to be inefficient," Gao notes. "Especially in rural areas, where we conduct our field studies, very few clinics have the necessary laboratory equipment to cultivate the cells to be tested overnight,” Dr. Gao says. "We need new technologies and methods to contain tuberculosis."
Gao relies on QIAGEN's QuantiFERON test to get reliable results: "The test is much easier for our lab technicians to use, we don't need complicated lab technology, and we can analyze up to 29 samples on a single sample plate." That helps them to work more efficiently, especially in epidemiological studies, when Gao and his team evaluate high numbers of samples. In 2015, researchers determined that in China fewer than 20% were infected. "This is a great success, which we also owe to QuantiFERON. The test gives us a much more realistic estimate of the number of infections and allows us to narrow down the number of those who need preventive treatment," says Dr. Gao.
But the fight against tuberculosis is far from won. In China's poorest provinces, the containment of tuberculosis still requires plenty of effort and innovative ideas: "For example, in a pilot project, we are training doctors in remote villages to treat patients with latent tuberculosis using a video app. In another project, we have chest X-rays analyzed by artificial intelligence." The biggest challenge to eradicating tuberculosis in China, however, is not technical, according to Gao: "Patients with microbiologically confirmed active TB need to be treated as inpatients, instead of at home as is currently the case. Isolated treatment would reduce the number of cases, not unlike COVID-19."