In a breakthrough discovery, scientists have found ways to trigger self suicide in TB bacteria, paving a way for the discovery of newer antibiotic treatments available to combat the deadly disease.
The team of researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, in conjunction with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, found that an enzyme- GlgE, responsible for making sugar molecules essential for the TB germ’s cell structure- can trigger a reaction in tuberculosis bacteria causing the toxic build-up of a sugar, called maltose 1-phosphate, within the cells. The cells respond by producing even more of the sugar, a combination which proves lethal for them.
GlgE does not exist in humans so it is safe to inactivate it with a drug. Another sugar called trehalose commonly found in the human diet could conceivably be used to make an anti-GlgE drug more potent. If dietary trehalose reached the bacteria it would increase the levels of maltose 1-phosphate even further. Dr William Jacobs, Jr. from Einstein, senior and corresponding author of the study said, “This pathway has never previously been targeted by antimicrobials and offers a treatment option very different from antibiotics in use.”
Tuberculosis bacteria is transmitted through the air and infects about one-third of the world’s population, with more than nine million people each year developing active cases of TB, which typically causes weight loss, night sweats, and lung damage. Treating TB is becoming challenging year after year as the bacterium that causes the disease, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, keeps evolving to dodge the drugs that are thrown at it, making existing treatments less effective.
Says Dr Steph Bornemann from the John Innes Centre, “With the advent of antibiotics, TB became treatable and at one point eradication was believed possible. But TB has re-emerged as a major global health threat due to poverty, a deadly synergy with HIV and the emergence of drug resistant strains that are virtually untreatable with current therapies.” With the findings of the present study, clinicians can now hope for the availability of better treatment options for those infected with this deadly disease.
The results of the research were published in the journal ‘Nature Chemical Biology’.
Written by Snigdha Taduri