NEW YORK (March 13, 2008) -- Success in the laboratory suggests that a new compound can point the way to preventing active tuberculosis in people infected with the latent form of the bacterium, says a team led by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. A drug with such properties could also be useful in treating people who already have tuberculosis by shortening the lengthy treatment period. The discovery also points to new ways of thinking about fighting bacterial infection, which is becoming increasingly resistant to traditional antibiotics.
"With each new case of antibiotic resistance, doctors are losing ground against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other infectious diseases," explains the study's senior author Dr. Carl Nathan, chairman of Microbiology and Immunology and the R.A. Rees Pritchett Professor of Microbiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. "This new approach fights the pathogen in a way that's different from conventional antibiotics. For what may be the first time, we have found compounds that only kill M. tuberculosis when they are not dividing. This lack of replication is a characteristic of latent bacteria, which are tough to eradicate with existing antibiotics and ultimately play a huge role in the epidemic's spread."
The new findings are published in the March 12 online issue of the journal Cell Host & Microbe.
It's tough to overestimate TB's impact on public health. According to the World Health Organization, the lung infection kills over 1.6 million people worldwide each year.
About a third of the world's people are also thought to be infected with latent or non-replicating M. tuberculosis. In about 5 to 10 percent of these individuals, the latent bacteria eventually begin to replicate, causing active disease. On average, each person with active TB is thought to spread the infection to between 9 and 20 other people, experts say.
"That means that killing latent M. tube
|Contact: Andrew Klein|
New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center