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Researchers In San Antonio Offer New Hope To People With Tuberculosis

Texas Biomedical Research Institute
Study lead author Eusondia Arnett and investigator Larry Schlesinger in the lab.

When most Americans think of tuberculosis, they think of it as an old disease that is no longer a threat. But, Texas Biomedical Research Institute President and CEO Dr. Larry Schlesinger says TB is still making people ill.

"TB is still a major scourge in society. In fact, there are over 30 outbreaks of tuberculosis in the United States over the last several years," he said. "So it's in our country. It's not just over there, if you will, and Texas happens to have a high prevalence of tuberculosis."

For centuries, a TB diagnosis was often a death sentence, but since the 1940s doctors used antibiotics to treat the infection.

Still, treatment takes months, and the side effects from the treatment used for treatment-resistant tuberculosis can include depression or psychosis, hearing loss, hepatitis, and kidney damage.

Schlesinger said that's where new research out of Texas Biomed comes in. He is the senior investigator on a study that is testing the effectiveness of host-directed therapies.

"Host-directed therapies are aimed at figuring out what in the immune system we can bolster to help our immune system fight the bacteria with the antibiotics — so, a combination of attacking the bug and attacking the immune system to enhance it," he said.

Texas Biomed staff scientist Eusondia Arnett is the lead author of this study, which uses cancer medication to fight TB. So far, the host-directed therapy is promising. Arnett said experimental cancer drugs are reducing TB growth by 80 percent in the lab.

If this treatment makes good on its promise, it could cut treatment time for infected individuals from six months to just a month or two, he added. The cancer drugs boost the immune system rather than targeting the bacteria, Arnett said, so the treatment could change the game for treating drug-resistant tuberculosis.

The next step for researchers is to test these medications in tuberculosis-infected animals.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at bonnie@tpr.org