TB: Researchers Look for New Tools to Fight Ancient Foe

By Dr. Steven Porcelli

Tuberculosis (TB) is an ancient disease that has afflicted humans since the dawn of civilization and remains very much with us even now. In fact, more people will probably die from TB in 2016 than from any other single infectious disease, with HIV a close second.

This grim fact is well documented by annual reports published by the World Health Organization since 1990. But it seems at odds with what we see as we look around our local Bronx neighborhood and throughout most of North America and the developed world. (In the related video below, Dr. Porcelli discusses what drew him to study TB and what motivates young scientists.)

Indeed, most cases of TB are curable with available drug treatment, and procedures for identifying and isolating active cases have been applied with great results in wealthier countries. Yet these measures often can’t be effectively applied or are simply not possible in many resource-poor African, Asian and South American countries. There the epidemic rages on, with at best modest gains in reducing the global burden of disease.

While the prevalence of and mortality rates from TB have been gradually falling in many of the high-incidence countries for the past several years, nearly 10 million people are likely to fall ill with TB in 2016, with annual deaths from the disease exceeding 1 million globally.

What makes tuberculosis deadly
Two features of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, are responsible for its status as the most successful and deadly of human pathogens: its ability to enter a persistent state, and its extremely sophisticated strategy of immune evasion.

Thanks to a knack for persisting in tissues of infected people without causing overt disease, M. tuberculosis —> Read More