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Dormant TB beats our best drugs

New knowledge about the way tuberculosis-causing bacteria can survive in a dormant state for years in our bodies could pave the way for treatments that will finally wipe out this dread disease, experts heard today (Monday 10 September 2001) at the bi-annual meeting of the Society of General Microbiology at the University of East Anglia.

US government medical researcher Dr Lawrence Wayne of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Long Beach, California, says "We have had powerful drugs to treat tuberculosis for over 50 years, but we have failed to eradicate the disease. This is due in part to socio-economic factors as well as to AIDS, which destroys our immunity to the tubercule bacteria, but also because the bacteria can go into a dormant state in our bodies, surviving for months or years without multiplying, protected from the anti-tuberculosis drugs".

According to Dr Wayne the tubercule bacteria adapt their biochemistry to conserve energy, which allows them to survive without any oxygen, although they usually need at least 10% oxygen to grow. As inflamed and infected tissues slowly run out of oxygen the bacteria stop reproducing and become dormant. The bacteria can also switch to alternative energy sources, reduce their need to make proteins, and protect their essential enzymes from breaking down.

Dr Lawrence Wayne says "As medical scientists gain further genetic information about these adaptations, it should be possible to design drugs that will interfere with them and prevent the bacteria from surviving in oxygen depleted tissues, solving the problem of latent tuberculosis disease".

Society for General Microbiology. August 2001.

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