On the scent: the rats who can smell TB

By - World Healthcare Journal
On the scent: the rats who can smell TB

APOPO, a global non-profit organisation from Belgium, uses scent to discover disease early. African giant pouched rats, nicknamed "HeroRATS", can detect Tuberculosis at least as accurately as conventional microscopy, if not more, and more than 20 times faster. In just 20 minutes, one “HeroRAT” can screen 100 samples of TB - it would take a trained lab technician over 4 days. To date, APOPO has screened over 400,000 samples with their rats, and diagnosed over 14,000 patients that had been missed by conventional tests, and increased detection rates of TB by 40% in several partnered clinics.


The benefit of having a non-invasive method of screening TB, especially in countries such as Tanzania which has one of the highest burdens of TB in the world with approximately 295 TB cases per 100,000 adults, is essential, particularly for children and vulnerable patients.


Now, APOPO are inviting Joy Milne, a retired nurse from Scotland, to Tanzania to see if she can learn how to smell TB. Joy has the ability to smell Parkinson’s disease to an astonishing degree of accuracy. She discovered her gift of being able to smell Parkinson's disease decades ago when her late husband started to develop the disease at 32 years old, years before conventional medicine was able to fully diagnose him at the age of 45. As of now, scientists believe to have located 10 molecules which they believe are the source of the smell which Joy can detect. Later this year, Joy will travel to California to further investigate why she can smell the disease, with hopes of finding ways of more accurately diagnosing Parkinson’s.


Being able to rapidly and accurately diagnose TB is saving lives in Tanzania, and other countries which are vulnerable to TB incidences. Hopefully, Joy and APOPO will be able to discover more ways of utilizing smell to diagnose TB in a non-invasive, reliable, and cost-effective way all of which are essential for its success in sub-Saharan Africa.


Photograph courtesy of APOPO.

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