Tuberculosis treatment

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: June 28th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Tuberculosis might be thought of as a lung disease of the past. But it continues to be the biggest infectious killer worldwide, taking a life every six seconds.

Tuberculosis, or T-B, is a major public health concern in the United States, especially as H-I-V and drug-resistant strains of T-B fuel epidemics in Africa, India and Latin America. Experts point out we can’t build walls high enough to keep these organisms out, which enter U-S borders through immigration and international travel.

A single person can spread it to a hundred people when T-B bacteria become airborne from a sneeze or cough and are inhaled by others.

While antibiotics have been used to fight tuberculosis for decades, many have toxic side effects and must be taken daily for at least six months. Aggressive treatments for the most difficult cases… those with multidrug-resistant strains of T-B… have been only moderately successful. The time is ripe for an innovative approach.

University of Florida researchers are collaborating with colleagues in India to develop a novel treatment using the powers of a protein already produced by the human body. Their goal is to convert this protein, called heme-oxygenase-one [heem-oxygen-ace one], into a bacteria-battling defense against T-B that would boost the effects of antibiotics. So far, they’ve seen positive results in laboratory animals and hope it will also work in patients.

Because one-third of the world’s population is infected with the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, experts say their research could have a tremendous impact on global health.