Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Can This Simple Discovery Stop Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is one of the most feared diseases in today’s world. Worse yet, this infection, which killed 1.4 million people in 2011, has become increasingly resistant to the drugs used to treat it. Experts estimate that about 650,000 people currently have multi-drug resistant cases with about 9% suffering from extensively drug-resistant infections.

Now a team of researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Israel’s Yeshiva University has stumbled over what may be a simple, inexpensive addition to existing tuberculosis drugs that can destroy the bacteria causing the disease.

The team, led by Dr, William Jacobs, Jr., were attempting to discover why TB bacteria were becoming resistant to isoniazid, a front-line drug used in treating tuberculosis. They grew tuberculosis bacteria in laboratory cultures and began studying them in hopes of finding out how the bacteria developed drug resistance. They discovered that the isoniazid-resistant bacteria lacked a molecule known as mycothiol.

The team reasoned that the bacteria that could not make their own mycothiol might contain more cysteine (an amino acid). They added isoniazid and cysteine to their cultures, expecting the bacteria to develop resistance. To their great surprise, the cultures died.

The team then recreated the experiment, this time using vitamin C instead of cysteine. Once again, their culture died.  Another experiment showed that Vitamin C by itself produced the same result.

Since an estimated 95% of tuberculosis deaths occur in poor or low-income countries, the discovery that vitamin C, which is cheap and easily available, can kill the bacteria, there is now hope that cheaper drugs can help mitigate the horrific effects of tuberculosis.

So far, researchers do not know whether vitamin C will actually work on humans. But they have enough evidence to proceed with a clinical trial. The results should be interesting.

For more technical information on this discovery, visit

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