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Defending against Tuberculosis

The deadliest bacterial pathogen may soon be fighting a losing battle. Scientists from Rockefeller University in New York say they have successfully stopped the tuberculosis pathogen's ability to operate from the immune system.// It typically hides out in the immune system in a cell called a macrophage.

The researchers say they have identified a new pathway (LRG-47) triggered by a host protein called interferon-gamma that disarms TB. Thus far, all of the research has been done in animals, but the researchers believe they have found a human equivalent of this pathway. They say LRG-47 is the correct pathway, because when they genetically remove it from the mice, they are then susceptible to TB infection.

According to experts, TB currently infects one-third of the human population and kills more people than any other bacterial pathogen. They write, "It is rivaled only by the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) virus as a communicable cause of death." Also, in developing countries, AIDS and TB go hand in hand. As many as 40 percent to 80 percent of AIDS patients will also develop TB.

Doctors know the protein interferon-gamma triggers a reaction of hundreds of genes, so they are still not quite sure which one is responsible for stopping TB. However, they say they are on the right path. One of the researchers, John McKinney, Ph.D. is quoted as saying: "One of the reasons we study the immune response to TB is to identify better treatments than those currently in use. This will occur only as a result of scientists' devoting more analysis to the bacteria's weaknesses and the host's strengths."

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