Age, sex may be important to consider in assessing TB risk

May 10, 2024 — How an individual’s immune system responds to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB)—and therefore whether they develop the disease—may differ across age and sex, according to a new study co-led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Sarah Fortune.

The study was published April 24 in Nature Microbiology.

In many parts of the world, TB infection is ubiquitous, but only a fraction of infected people will get sick with the disease. Identifying the individuals who become ill — and who can spread the disease to others—is key to saving their lives and the lives of many others, according to Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.

“A number of studies have identified biomarkers of TB progression — immune and inflammatory changes that occur prior to the development of active disease,” Fortune said. “Our study is the first to examine whether we should be looking for different diagnostic markers in different groups of people — men versus women and kids versus adults, for example.”

The researchers investigated antibody responses to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) — the bacteria that can cause TB — in 140 individuals in South Africa who had been exposed to TB but not yet diagnosed with the disease. They then identified differences in antibody response between those who later progressed to TB disease and those who remained healthy.

The study identified an antibody score, representing the presence of TB-related antibodies, that could identify people at risk of progression to TB disease. However, the study also found that antibody scoring was most accurate if it considered people’s sex and age.

“In other words, moving from a one-size-fits-all diagnostic approach to a more personalized diagnostic approach that takes into account more of a patient’s identity may allow health systems to treat them more effectively,” Fortune said. “Our ongoing work is trying to understand the basis for these different antibody responses, which might give us clues for designing better diagnostics and vaccines for TB.”

Read the study: Age and sex influence antibody profiles associated with tuberculosis progression

Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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By Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Published: May 10, 2024, 10:26 p.m.

Last updated: May 15, 2024, 9:30 p.m.

Tags: Diagnostics

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