In places where controlling tuberculosis (TB) is a concern, there is an urgent need for simple, inexpensive diagnostics that can identify active TB, particularly in the context of HIV infection. In a recent paper (PLoS Medicine, October 22, 2013), researchers discovered that a unique RNA transcriptional signature found in whole blood could distinguish TB from other diseases including HIV – and perhaps form the basis of a simple diagnostic test.

The scientists used patient microarray data to create a statistical method of evaluating a patient’s status or disease risk score (DRS) based on the signatures of 27 (distinguishes TB from latent TB) or 44 (separates TB and other diseases) RNA transcripts. Although further evaluation is still needed before this approach can be accepted and widely used, these findings indicate that a distinctive set of RNA transcriptional profiles is a promising approach for building clinical diagnostic tools using a single blood test.

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