October 13, 2015

In 2015, 1.8 million people died from tuberculosis, making it one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Researchers at the Tulane National Primate Research Center (TNPRC) are attempting to change these statistics through the development of a new vaccine.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This infection most frequently affects the lungs, and it is spread from person to person through the air. 60% of all tuberculosis cases occur in six countries — India, Indonesia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, and South Africa — with nine million total cases reported worldwide.

A team of researchers led by the TNPRC is working to develop a vaccine more effective than BCG, the most common tuberculosis vaccine. This developing vaccine modifies a strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to lose a stress response gene called SigmaH. Monkeys that received aerosols of this modified strain demonstrated increased resistance to tuberculosis and even showed glimpses of protective immune response in their lungs.

“While the results are exciting, we believe further work is needed before this excitement can be translated to human trials,” says Dr. Deepak Kaushal, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at TNPRC. “More studies are needed to validate these results in alternative settings, and more modifications may be necessary. However, the impact of the current work in identifying what is needed to protect against TB is unquestionable.”

An enhanced vaccine could help reduce the rate of tuberculosis incidence, which has fallen by an average of 1.5% per year since 2000. The World Health Organization has set the ambitious goal to reduce tuberculosis deaths by 95% and cut new cases by 90% by 2035.

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