series event

Using genomics to diagnose infectious diseases: better to use the pathogen or the host?

Prof Martin Hibberd
Prof Martin Hibberd, LSHTM

Our new EU grant DIAMONDS (Diagnosis and Management of Febrile Illness using RNA Personalized Molecular Signature Diagnosis) seeks to identify infectious diseases using the host response, with the aim of identifying rapidly if antibiotics are needed. A rapid gene signature test could diagnose sepsis within two hours. The current stepwise process of diagnosing infectious and inflammatory diseases involves doing many different blood tests and scans which can be slow and inefficient, meaning that there may be significant delays before the right treatment is given. 

Diagnosis can be made accurately and rapidly on the first blood sample taken when a patient attends a hospital or health centre, by identifying the pattern of genes switched on in each patient’s blood. This international group will build a ‘library of gene signatures’ where the signatures of all common infectious and inflammatory diseases will be stored and made publicly available.

By comparing the pattern of genes in each patient’s blood sample with the signature of all diseases in the ‘gene signature library’, the diagnosis in each individual can be made rapidly. Patients can also be treated with antibiotics unnecessarily as a precaution in case they have a bacterial infection. Investigations can take days or weeks before an accurate diagnosis is made, delaying treatment, taking up resources and costing money.

The team plan to turn this into a rapid test platform that can measure the small number of genes needed to diagnose most common infectious and inflammatory diseases. Although we are still looking for a platform that will measure the 100-150 genes required for the identification of all common infectious and inflammatory diseases.          


About the speaker

Martin Hibberd is Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and has an adjunct positions at University of the Philippines, Manila, in Human Genetics (at NIH) and the Genome Institute of Singapore (where he was previously associate director from 2003 to 2016). He also has visiting positions at the Philippine Genome Centre and the National University of Singapore.

He graduated from Brunel University in 1985 in Applied Biology and received his Doctorate from King’s College, London in 1994. He has a broad scientific background spanning both microbial and human determinants of infectious and inflammatory diseases. His current research interests utilize genomic applications to cover both pathogen and host aspects of infectious disease. He has over 190 publications, in journals with an impact factor averaging 9, with more than 15,000 citations in total and an h-index of 62.               


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