Alberto García-Basteiro, hospital Clínic Barcelona-ISGlobal researcher, has been awarded a grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for the TB-QUEST project, an epidemiological field study that aims to provide evidence of effective transmission of asymptomatic or subclinical tuberculosis (TB) cases to close contacts using, among others, genome sequencing of the pathogen.
The ERC Starting Grant is awarded to promising early-career researchers to support their scientific journey. This grant can cover up to 100% of the total eligible direct costs of the research, plus a contribution of 25% of the total indirect costs. In response to this year's call, the ERC received 2,696 applications and the success rate of applicants is estimated at 15%.
Understanding the role of asymptomatic TB in disease transmission
Tuberculosis remains one of the world's leading causes of morbidity and mortality. Most control strategies focus on interventions that target latent infection and the active stages of the disease. However, prevalence surveys have shown that about 50% of cases in which Mycobacterium tuberculosis is isolated from sputum are asymptomatic. For this reason, subclinical TB has recently attracted increasing scientific interest, as it may play an important role in TB transmission despite the absence of symptoms. However, no field study has demonstrated direct transmission from a subclinical TB case to a confirmed secondary case.
"If subclinical TB spreads the disease, the implications for global TB control, as well as for the design of clinical trials for vaccines and drugs, are paramount," explains Alberto García-Basteiro. "The TB-QUEST project will shed light on how we define and detect subclinical TB and improve our understanding of its epidemiology, duration of infectiousness and factors associated with self-elimination or progression to symptomatic disease", adds the ISGlobal researcher.
Alberto García-Basteiro is an associate research professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), associate physician in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology of the Hospital Clínic Barcelona, and coordinator of the tuberculosis research area at the Manhiça Health Research Centre (CISM) in Mozambique. His scientific interests focus on assessing the burden of tuberculosis in Africa, testing new diagnostics and treatments, and characterising tuberculosis at the clinical, microbiological and social levels.