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Cholesterol may help fighting tuberculosis-causing bacteria

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Posted April 10, 2016

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease usually caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and usually affecting lungs only. It causes millions of deaths every year and treatment is long and tiring.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis can be inhibited by modified cholesterol. Image credit: NIAID via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Mycobacterium tuberculosis can be inhibited by modified cholesterol. Image credit: NIAID via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Now scientists from The University of Queensland and the University of California San Francisco have found a new method to inhibit the growth of the disease causing bacterium. It is said that this discovery may lead to developing of new better treatments.

Scientists focused on how tuberculosis-causing bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis is affected by cholesterol, which even before has been known to affect the virulence and infectivity of tuberculosis.

The research team was led by the professor Paul Ortiz de Montellano. His colleague from Australia, Professor James De Voss, described the achievement: “What Paul’s team and our team have shown is that if you give this bacterium modified cholesterol instead, then it can’t use it as its energy source and so it stops growing. Interestingly, we don’t quite understand why this happens. Our discovery suggests a new way in which we can robustly inhibit growth of the TB bacterium”.

Combatting tuberculosis is a goal for scientists all around the globe, because it is extremely common disease. In fact, it is said that one third of global population is infected with TB. It is much more common in the developing world than in the West, and kills someone every 21 seconds.

It is estimated that in 2014 around 5.4 million adult men, 3.2 million adult women and 1.0 million children were diagnosed and 1.5 million people died because of tuberculosis. This disease can be treated successfully, if diagnosed early. Symptoms include coughing, sometimes with sputum or blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.  Treatment (course of antibiotics) lasts for six months.

This new approach to treating tuberculosis is at a very early stage of development. But it is very promising and could potentially revolutionize currently very long treatment methods.

Sources: UQ ;  WHO

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