Office of Technology Transfer – University of Michigan

Delta-like 4 as a biomarker for tuberculosis diagnosis

Technology #6122

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Matthew Schaller
Managed By
Ed Pagani
Associate Director, Health Technologies 734-763-3558

Tuberculosis (TB) infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis is second leading cause for deaths worldwide resulting from a single infection after HIV/AIDS. Currently, 19-43.5% of the world’s population is infected with M. tuberculosis of which 75% of the cases reported are in underdeveloped and developing countries. Most infections are latent and only 1 in 10 infected individuals progress to active diseased state. Thus accurate diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis is fundamental to reducing the incidence of TB and curtailing the spread of infection. However current toolkits for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis are highly outdated and inaccurate. These methods lack diagnostic sensitivity and specificity i.e. ability to distinguish between latent TB infections (LTBI), false positives arising from BCG vaccination or recent exposure to the bacteria. Most of these methods also require access to proper health care facilities which cannot be found in underdeveloped and developing countries that are home to majority of the TB affected population. Additionally despite the popularity of biomarkers as objective tools in clinical diagnosis, there is still no validated biomarker for tuberculosis infections. These problems leave much to be desired in terms of diagnostic potential for determining if individuals are infected with TB.

Delta-like 4 as a biomarker for tuberculosis diagnosis

To this end the experimental efforts of researchers at the University of Michigan has resulted in identification of a unique biomarker that facilitates non-invasive diagnosis of tuberculosis. Researchers observed that Delta-like ligand 4 (DLL4), a cell surface ligand, was upregulated systemically in bone marrow and peripheral blood in response to mycobacterial infection. The detection of elevated levels of DLL4 in peripheral blood would thus serve as a minimally invasive diagnostic tool for tuberculosis.


  • Biomarker for active tuberculosis infection in research and diagnostic applications
  • Diagnostic tool/field test for active tuberculosis infection
  • Point-of-care testing for TB infections
  • Potential target for gene therapy and treatment of tuberculosis upon further investigation of the role of DLL4 in disease progression


  • Specific biomarker for tuberculosis infection
  • Highly improved sensitivity and specificity for preliminary tuberculosis infection screening
  • Can be employed to develop a low cost diagnostic field test
  • The diagnostic test requires only a small amount of patient sample (peripheral blood)
  • Test results can obtained in a short time i.e. the same day as sample collection