Researchers look to make more effective drug treatments for tuberculosis

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Tuberculosis isn’t yet making a major comeback in the U.S. but one- third of the world’s population is infected with the disease, and it poses a major danger to health worldwide.

Though public health initiatives have improved, the drugs used to treat tuberculosis have remained much the same since interest in drug research for the disease faded in the 1960’s.

That is why researchers at the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy and School of Medicine are looking at how to make more effective drug treatments for people with tuberculosis.

“First we wanted to know why isoniazid [a major drug in fighting TB] works,” said Graham Timmins, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacy. Isoniazid was discovered in the 1950’s. “We know it is effective but no one has really been sure as to why.”

Timmins and researchers Sharon Master and Vojo Deretic at the UNM School of Medicine uncovered how INH really works to kill tuberculosis.

What we found was that the nitric oxide in isoniazid works like a Trojan horse to fight off TB, Timmins said. An enzyme only found inside the TB bacteria makes nitric oxide from the isoniazid that is taken inside the cell. We already knew that nitric oxide was very toxic to TB, but by linking these pieces of information together, we now know much more about how isoniazid works.

“Now that we understand the mechanism we can make other forms of these drugs that will work better than isoniazid,” he said.

Two-million people die each year from tuberculosis worldwide, and it is a leading cause of death for people living with HIV/AIDS. In the US, the poor, homeless, HIV-infected, and immigrant populations are where the disease is usually manifested.

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