Tuberculosis is an extremely insidious disease. The pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis can rest undetected many years in the human body, and infected people show no symptoms – until the disease suddenly breaks out. Worldwide, the number of deaths related to tuberculosis amounts to 2 million per year, eight million new infections occur annually. Dangerous centers of infection are, for instance, third-world countries or prisons in countries of the former Soviet Union. In some of the prisons, one hundred percent of the inmates carry the pathogen. Another serious problem is the increasing resistance of tuberculosis-pathogens against antibiotics.
Therefore, next to prevention in the affected countries, the search for new active agents against Mycobacterium tuberculosis has top priority. Funded by the German Ministry of Science and Education, a systematic search for such substances has begun. In the course of this project, scientists around Jens Peter von Kries at the so-called Screening Unit of the Berlin-based Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) made a surprising discovery: They identified a promising agent that inhibits the growth of tuberculosis bacteria. First tests at the cooperating Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin showed the effectiveness of the substance in living tissue. "The substance that we discovered attacks the pathogens within their host cells", says Dr. von Kries. These host cells are part of the human immune system and form the first wall of defense agains the disease. In those so-called macrophages the tuberculosis pathogens remain undetected and grow, at the same time blocking an effective response of the immune system.
Currently, the scientists are filing a patent. Thus, Jens Peter von Kries does not want to disclose further details. He only says: "Our substance has already been clinically tested for other purposes. What’s new is the fact that it inhibits the growth of Mycobacterium tuberkulosis." The scientist adds: "Many people encounter the substance in their every-day life."
Dr. Björn Maul | alfa
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