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International News

Tanzanian Rats, Who Already Sniff Out Landmines, Now Poised to Detect TB

December 16, 2003

A grant from the World Bank will help train giant pouched rats, who have been trained to sniff out land mines in Africa, to detect tuberculosis bacteria in human saliva. The $163,780 grant is one of several awarded by the World Bank for proposals with creative responses to the challenges of development.

Bart Weetjens, director of the rat project, said he was challenged by the potential social impact the project could have if successful. "TB is a growing problem... people are feeling like we are losing the battle," said Weetjens.

According to World Health Organization estimates, deaths from TB will rise from 2 million this year to 8 million by 2015. Weetjens said about 40 percent of the estimated 60,000 Tanzanians suffering from TB are also HIV-positive. TB can be treated if detected early enough.

In his proposal, Weetjens said the rat, whose Latin name is Cricetomys gambianus, can sniff 120-150 human saliva samples in lab dishes in 30 minutes, in contrast to the day's work it takes for a human technician to analyze 20 samples. The rat is trained to stop in front of samples that smell like TB and wait for a reward, while it walks past samples where TB is not present.

When the project gets underway in July, a training hospital in Dar es Salaam will provide the human saliva samples to be tested. "There may be not only a greater advantage in terms of cost but also in processing more samples," said Weetjens.

Some of the grant funds will be used to construct a new lab to test for TB at the research station at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, 100 miles west of Dar es Salaam. The station is run by Apopo, the Belgian-funded, Antwerp-based research group that is also running the project that has trained the rats to sniff out land mines.

Back to other news for December 16, 2003

Adapted from:
Associated Press
12.15.03; George Mwangi

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More News on HIV/AIDS in Tanzania