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08 Jul 2020

Doherty Institute receives MRFF funding to tackle drug-resistant tuberculosis in PNG

The Doherty Institute has received $784,966 from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for a project investigating the rapid diagnosis of drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) in Papua New Guinea, aiming to provide a roadmap to identify the infection in other Pacific Island nations.

Led by University of Melbourne Professor Lachlan Coin, Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute, the project addresses a gap in current research where the characterisation of drug resistance profile of a tuberculosis infection cannot be carried out in country, and takes months to conclude.

A swift identification of DR-TB would have a significant impact in improving the timely initiation of appropriate and effective therapy – something that’s estimated to impact thousands of people within Papua New Guinea each year.

“Tuberculosis is a serious public health emergency in Papua New Guinea, with one of the highest rates of incidence of drug resistant tuberculosis globally,” said Professor Coin.

“It’s of great clinical and public health importance it can identified as soon as possible so that patients can receive the treatment they need – something that’s not presently possible. Current approaches are extremely time-consuming and cannot be carried out locally due to the extensive laboratory equipment required, taking far too long to diagnose.”

This project extends collaborations between the Central Public Health Laboratory in Port Moresby, the Doherty Institute at the University of Melbourne, the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland and the Queensland Mycobacterium reference laboratory.  

Demonstrating the feasibility of using direct-from-sample whole-genome sequencing to identify DR-TB within six hours of collecting the sample from the patient, the project aims to provide a basis for more rational treatment of tuberculosis in the country and, eventually, a pathway for rolling out this approach in other Pacific Island nations.

This grant is part of the MRFF Global Health Initiative - 2019 Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance and Drug Resistant Tuberculosis in Pacific Island Countries.

“DR-TB is more transmissible than drug-susceptible tuberculosis in the region and one of the contributing factors is the unnecessarily long infection time due to the delay in identifying and treating the infection.

“This project has real potential to improve health outcomes in PNG and across the Pacific,” Professor Coin said.