A World-beating TB Detector

To quickly and cheaply diagnose the world’s worst infectious disease, engineers have shrunk an NMR machine down to size


17 March—To fight tuberculosis, which infects a third of the world’s population and kills 2 million people every year, you’ve got to find and cure the disease before it can spread to new hosts. However, current diagnostic tests require time, money, and full working laboratories, all of which are lacking precisely where the disease is most prevalent.

A faster, cheaper, more sensitive, and more portable TB detector is just what the doctor ordered, and researchers at the Center for Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School already have a prototype of one. It’s the size of a cellphone and should cost just a few hundred dollars to make and another few dollars each time you use it, researchers say. Crucially, it’s a thousand times as sensitive and a dozen times as fast as the tests doctors now use.

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