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Glaucoma drug could help save millions from TB


Biosensor that glows green in response to conditions that mimic TB infection.
Biosensor that glows green in response to conditions that mimic TB infection. Credit: – MSU

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. In 2013, the disease claimed the lives of nearly 1.5 million people, equal to more than half of the population of Chicago proper. It is also the leading killer of people infected by HIV.

Curing TB is difficult. A typical treatment plan requires numerous drugs taken regularly for a period of six to nine months—an expensive, drawn-out process. What makes treatment difficult is the fact that the disease is able to sense its environment and adapt, allowing it to hide from the body’s immune system.

In developed nations, treating TB will cost around $2,000 a patient. For those who are infected by drug-resistant TB, that cost rises to upward of $250,000 a patient. The cost of treatment is high for someone living in a developed nation. For someone in an underdeveloped nation, the cost might as well be $1,000,000,000. It’s simply out of reach. Furthermore, it means that the non-governmental organizations who help treat people in developing nations simply cannot assist–organizations like Partners in Health.

Scientists at Michigan State University have found a drug that may help doctors fight back against the disease. The drug is ethoxzolamide and it is commonly used in treating glaucoma.

Ethoxzolamide helps treat TB by leveling the playing field. It essentially blinds the bacteria, preventing it from seeing and responding to the immune system.

“We don’t necessarily have to find drugs that kill TB, we just need to find ones that interfere with the bug’s ability to sense and resist the immune system. By giving the immune system a helping hand, natural defenses can then kill the bacteria,” said lead author Robert Abramovitch.

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