Soil Compounds to Treat Tuberculosis


Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. It is the second biggest killer, globally; in 2015, 1.8 million people died of TB and an estimate of 10.4 million new cases was registered. Although some strains of the bacterium are curable, others are increasingly resistant to current treatments. In 2015, around 480,000 cases were unresponsive to the two major drugs used to treat TB, and more than 250,000 deaths were from drug resistant infections. TB has recorded more deaths than HIV/AIDS, pushing scientists to urgently and quickly find a new treatment.

A collaboration of researchers including the University of Warwick and institutions from Australia, Canada, and the USA discovered a new compound that could be a new TB treatment. This new compound is extracted from bacterium that lives in the soil and prevents other bacteria from growing around it; thus, effectively killing the Mycobacterium tuberculosis which causes TB.

Using synthetic chemistry, scientists managed to recreate those compounds with structural variation turning them into potent chemical analogue. When the compounds were tested, they proved effective in killing the bacteria responsible for TB. The chemicals attack an enzyme in Mycobacterium tuberculosis called MraY, which catalyzes a crucial step in building the cell around a bacterium. This part of the bacterium is believed to be the weakest; thus, allowing the antibacterial compound to attack TB strains by preventing the bacterium from building a cell wall.

Richard Payne, Professor in Sydney’s School of Chemistry and one of the lead investigators, says that the new analogs-structural variations of the compound effectively killed the TB bacteria inside macrophages; the host immune cells that TB bacteria inhabit when they infect human lungs.

Professor Payne says that the findings are a pathway for developing a new TB drug, and that further tests and safety studies are already being conducted. Future experiments will also try to explore the underlying mechanism through which the new compounds select their targets.

“Without a cell wall, the bacterium dies. This wall-building protein is not targeted by currently available drugs,’ says Professor Richard Payne. We are very optimistic about the results and looking forward to the release of a new cure for a most vicious disease.


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