Published: 09 August 2013

Surrey research could lead to a quicker cure for TB

Scientists discover the key to tackling tuberculosis lies in starving the enemy.

Tuberculosis kills 1.4 million people per year. It’s a growing problem: strains of the TB bacillus are becoming more resistant to existing drugs and the bacterium is very difficult to treat, often due to the long periods of time required to sustain long-term drug and treatment programmes.

But scientists at the University of Surrey have been conducting research into tuberculosis which could address these issues, and result in quicker treatment for sufferers.

Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics, and Dr Dany Beste, Lecturer in Microbial Metabolomics, are lead investigators on a Wellcome Trust-funded project, which examines what the bacterium ‘eats’ when it grows inside its host cell, a type of white blood cell called a macrophage.

Through infecting labelled white blood cells with the bacteria, the project team discovered that the TB bacterium attacks the host cells and eats fatty acids, amino acids and some other unknown compounds.  It also captures dissolved carbon dioxide and turns it into its own biomass.  The team can now use this greater understanding of what the bacterium feeds on to find vulnerabilities that could be targeted with new drugs.  

Professor McFadden said: “This is the first time we have been able to directly measure the metabolism of the bug and identify what it eats.  This is crucial to our understanding of the disease and is a significant step forward in our quest for a successful treatment.  The next step in the project is to identify ways of starving the bacterium in host cells, so it can be killed quicker.”

The study was recently published in the journal Cell Chemistry and Biology. 

Share what you've read?