How genetic mapping could help the fight against tuberculosis

In an effort to develop more effective medical treatments and vaccines for tuberculosis (TB), medical researchers are investigating the link between the widespread disease and genetic susceptibility.

In South Africa tuberculosis (TB), including drug resistant TB, was determined to be the leading cause of death in 2012 and genetic mapping may help pinpoint the variants that make individuals prone to the illness.

Genetic mapping looks at genetic variants that are found more or less frequently in healthy individuals, and then compares those variants to individuals who suffer from TB.

According to Dr Michelle Daya, postdoctoral researcher in human genetics at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, once they have been able to identify the key genetic variants they will be able to improve medical vaccines and immune response treatments.

Daya says that studies into genetics and TB susceptibility are well established, with ongoing research across the world.

The research explores the possible genetic reasons why a patients' immune system does not rid the body of the bacterium. Studies on twins have shown that a patient’s immune response to TB is regulated by their genetic background and that between 36% to 80% of the total variation between individuals can be ascribed to genetic factors.

We know that there is a genetic component to how susceptible you are to TB from twin studies. They compare the rate of TB between identical twins who share the all their genetic material with fraternal twins who share only half of their genetic material. And as expected, identical twins are more similar in their TB rates. So we are quite sure that there is genetic component to TB susceptibility and it makes sense for us to do genetic mapping.

Dr Michelle Daya, postdoctoral researcher in human genetics at Stellenbosch University

Listen to the full conversation on CapeTalk's Breakfast with Kieno Kammies:

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