An Australian scientist will bring effective screening for tuberculosis (TB) a step closer with his latest study in Vietnam- where he now lives and works.
We still don't know why only one in ten of the two billion people carrying the Mycobacteria tuberculosis bacterium become sick with tuberculosis (TB). But the disease kills more than one million people worldwide every year - three every minute.
Centenary Institute researcher Dr Greg Fox is helping to find out by using a $150,000 grant from an anonymous benefactor to conduct a genetic study of TB patients and their families in Vietnam, a country where 290,000 people have TB and 54,000 die from it every single year.
The role of genes in the risk of contracting TB is thought to be about 30-40 per cent - Greg wants to find out more.
"By studying the genetics of those who live in a country with high rates of TB, we can compare genetic differences between those affected by TB and those who aren't," Greg says, "This may one day allow us to screen those with a high likelihood of being exposed to TB."
Greg has worked with TB patients and their families in Vietnam for the past three years at the National Lung Hospital in Hanoi.
For this project and a range of other projects, Greg is collaborates with the National Lung Hospital in Hanoi and the Pham Ngoc Thac Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City as part of Vietnam's National Tuberculosis program.
His other research project, which will continue until 2014, is part of a $1.3m NHMRC-funded collaboration between Centenary and the Woolcock Institute that set up a controlled trial of active screening of TB patient's family members in 71 District Clinics in eight provinces across Vietnam.
This experience reminds Greg why he and Centenary have committed to strengthening both treatment and research efforts in the developing world.
"Being in Vietnam, with my wife and young son, I'm constantly reminded about the importance of TB research and establishing partnerships with countries that have high levels of this devastating disease," he says.
"In Vietnam, tuberculosis most often affects the poor. If we can develop better ways of combatting this disease, then it will make a real difference to those who are least able to afford it."
"My wife, who is a GP working at an international clinic, and I are grateful that we are in positions to make a difference to such a major health problem."
Centenary Institute is also conducting a genetic study in China, another country with a high incidence of TB.
Dr Magda Ellis is analysing thousands of genetic samples for the biggest genome-wide study of TB patients ever conducted in Asia, which will complement the work being done in Vietnam.
"TB is a global disease that requires global solutions, "Professor Mathew Vadas, the Director of the Centenary Institute says, "Greg's efforts in Vietnam complement our other genetic study in China and of course, our core team here in Sydney working on new drugs and vaccines for TB."
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- Greg is in Sydney for the next few months before returning to Vietnam.