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#HRB30 Story

TB or not TB - boosting the immune response against an ancient killer

20 December 2016

Tuberculosis is a killer, and the bug that causes it is developing resistance against the drugs we have to treat it. HRB-funded research at Trinity College Dublin has discovered one way that our immune systems ‘switch on’ defence mechanisms against the bug, raising the possibility of new medicines to boost our immune systems in the fight against TB.

Trinity College Dublin, lead researcher Dr Laura Gleeson

The problem

Tuberculosis (TB) is an ancient disease - records of it go back thousands of years - and the bacteria that cause it can ‘hide’ for a long time in the body. We have drug treatments that target the bug that causes TB, but the bacteria have been developing resistance against those drugs, and this issue is set to get even more serious. So could we develop therapies to boost the body’s own immune system to clear the bug more effectively and thereby prevent or manage TB?

The project

Working with Professor Joe Keane, Dr Laura Gleeson has been looking at ways we can boost our body’s immune response to the bacteria that cause TB. She showed that immune cells called macrophages change the way they burn sugar when they are exposed to TB, and that shift results in them making a cocktail of disease-fighting agents.

The outcomes
  • We now know more about how immune cells change their biochemistry when they ‘meet’ the bacterium that causes TB, and this helps them fight the disease.
  • A paper about the research in the highly respected Journal of Immunology.
  • The findings pave the way to look for a new medicine that can ‘switch’ the immune cells on to fight TB more effectively, even if the bugs are resistant to other drugs.

Dr Laura Gleeson says:

'Multi-drug resistant TB is already a big problem and it is set to get even bigger. With this better understanding of how our bodies fight the disease we can now look for drugs to give our immune system that boost and help to fight even drug-resistant TB'.

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