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Advanced imaging tools for childhood tuberculosis: potential applications and research needs.
Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death globally that is due to a single pathogen, and up to a fifth of patients with tuberculosis in high-incidence countries are children younger than 16 years. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of childhood tuberculosis is challenging because the disease is often paucibacillary and it is difficult to obtain suitable specimens, causing poor sensitivity of currently available pathogen-based tests. Chest radiography is important for diagnostic evaluations because it detects abnormalities consistent with childhood tuberculosis, but several limitations exist in the interpretation of such results. Therefore, other imaging methods need to be systematically evaluated in children with tuberculosis, although current data suggest that when available, cross-sectional imaging, such as CT, should be considered in the diagnostic evaluation for tuberculosis in a symptomatic child. Additionally, much of the understanding of childhood tuberculosis stems from clinical specimens that might not accurately represent the lesional biology at infection sites. By providing non-invasive measures of lesional biology, advanced imaging tools could enhance the understanding of basic biology and improve on the poor sensitivity of current pathogen detection systems. Finally, there are key knowledge gaps regarding the use of imaging tools for childhood tuberculosis that we outlined in this Personal View, in conjunction with a proposed roadmap for future research.