Research and Development for TB eradication

APOPO’s Tuberculosis (TB) Research Laboratory located in Morogoro, Tanzania, was established in 2005. This distinctive laboratory, the first ever to evaluate rats as a diagnostic tool in human health, has developed a solid empirical base and has received worldwide recognition for its accomplishments. International agencies, such as the World Bank, the UBS Optimus Foundation and the National Institute of Health are among the supporters of the research. Importantly, as the technical evidence of APOPO’s tuberculosis screening method using rats grows, so does APOPO’s operational impact.

The TB Laboratory has three main functions: first, to conduct empirical evaluations on the rats in collaboration with our scientific partners; second, to use these findings to improve internal operational capabilities; and third, to train TB detection rats and provide training for local and international staff, students and researchers.

The Laboratory houses a fully functional sample processing facility with a safety cabinet, autoclave, centrifuge, multiple infrared microscopes, and safety equipment. The Laboratory also houses four rat-training rooms: one for the pre-training stages, one for research activities, and two that are shared between research and operational activities. The laboratory currently processes around 800 samples per week, collected from the TB clinics in Dar es Salaam for screening by rats.

The long-term mission of the TB Research Laboratory is to validate a cost-effective and high-impact detection rat platform that may be used by independent entities in several other high-TB burden countries. APOPO’s long-term strategy, should the outcomes be sufficiently good, aims to incorporate the rats into the international tuberculosis control strategy. The strategy involves four major components: 1) evaluation of the technology on a large scale, 2) development of the evidence base for the technology, 3) demonstration of the cost-effective and the social impact of the technology, and 4) capacity building.

The TB Laboratory has made strides toward meeting the first two components of the strategy, including the completion of a proof-of-principle study and a major evaluation that compared the rats to microscopy relative to culture with Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). To read more on the pilot study click here and to read more on the comparison to culture study click here. Please see our list of publications to find out even more.

APOPO has several research studies planned for completion in the next 3-5 years that will further improve the effectiveness and impact of our TB operations; one group of studies will appraise how the rats are used and for which populations they are suitable while a second group of studies will internally and externally evaluate cost-effectiveness and social impact.

An important test planned for the upcoming year is to evaluate the rats as a first-line screening tool. As first-line screeners, a small group of rats would evaluate a pool of untested sputum samples and rat-positive samples would be further confirmed by, for example, microscopy or Cepheid GeneXpert (i.e. automated PCR). As first-line screeners, the rats may be suitable for use in prisons, refugee camps, or neighborhoods underserved by the national health care program, to name a few potential beneficiaries.

APOPO’s staff, management, and the little HeroRATs are excited to explore the potential of this simple, yet life-changing concept.

 

Amanda Mahoney, Head of Behavioral Research

Amanda Mahoney, Head of Behavioral Research

I started working with APOPO in 2011 as a doctoral student of behavioral sciences but it was an easy decision to join the team full time after graduation. I remember my amazement after watching the rats work for the first time. I realized then the value of the work done at APOPO, and the potential of the rats.

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