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Scientists make breakthrough in TB treatment

Potential solutions have been discovered that help to treat tuberculosis (TB), an airborne disease.

Tuberculosis is a disease that affects the lungs, and is one of the most prevalent diseases in India and parts of Africa. This disease occurs in approximately 33 per cent of the global population. Science journals report that around 1.6 million people die from untreated tuberculosis every year.

Research on this disease has been one of the most focused subjects in the past decade.  Though the proportions are much smaller in the UK, they have been at the risk of rising. Now, scientists at the University have led a study that suggest at a groundbreaking treatment.

In previous years, the majority of research has been focused on developing anti-bacterial solutions. However, Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been developing increasing resistance to treatments due to growing and continuous usage of antibiotics. The solution to the problem is not temporary, meaning that the same patients who were once victims of tuberculosis could also have a relapse later in life.

Recent research suggests another mode of treatment, appropriate for the current situation. This method involves first attacking the bacterial defence of the infection instead of the bacteria itself. The study was led by Professor Lydia Tabernero, and focused on developing drugs that could attack bacteria’s defences. In order to attack that defence, an agent known as MptpB is used to kill the tuberculosis strain. This, according to Professor Tabernero, removes a “remarkable amount of burden on the bacteria”.

Professor Tabernero, speaking to the BBC World Service, states that it works by blocking defence mechanisms of the pathogens. Research carried out by Rudgers University in the US conclude the drug works on guinea pigs. The treatment also works on multi-drug-resistant bacteria.

Professor Tabernero later said, “The fact that the animal studies showed our compound, which doesn’t kill the bacteria directly, resulted in a significant reduction in the bacterial burden is remarkable. For more than 60 years, the only weapon doctors have been able to use against TB is antibiotics.”

“Resistance is becoming an increasingly worrying problem and the prolonged treatment is difficult and distressing for patients. And with current treatments, there’s no guarantee the disease will be eliminated: antibiotics do not clear the infection and the risk of being infected with drug-resistant bacteria is very high. But by disabling this clandestine bacteria’s defences we’re thrilled to find a way that enhances the chances of the body’s immune system to do its job, and thus eliminate the pathogen.”

Professor Tabernero added, “The great thing about targeting MptpB is that there’s nothing similar in humans – so our blocking compound is not toxic to human cells. Because the bacteria hasn’t been threatened directly, it is less likely to develop resistance against this new agent, and this will be a major advantage over current antibiotics, for which bacteria had already become resistant. TB is an amazingly difficult disease to treat so we feel this is a significant breakthrough.”

Tags: drug, medicine, research, STEM, TB, treatment, tuberculosis, University of Manchester

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