Vitamin C may be useful complement to existing drugs in fight against drug-resistant TB

A recently published, unexpected discovery coming from researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University suggests that vitamin C may be a useful component to treating drug-resistant tuberculosis. This finding may sound more like something out of a television medical drama than real life, but the research—funded by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health—suggests that ascorbic acid may help kill the bacteria that cause TB.

These preliminary findings have laid a foundation for clinical trials using vitamin C in tandem with other drugs. Researchers observed that vitamin C treatment of the cultured bacteria led to generation of harmful “free radicals” in both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB strains. It remains to be seen if vitamin C can have the same effect on the bacteria that have infected a human. Multi- and extreme-drug resistant forms of TB (MDR- and XDR-TB) are significant health threats and developing effective therapy requires the research community using every tool available.

Tuberculosis is a world-wide health threat, causing illness in more than 8.5 million people and claiming 1.4 million lives in 2011. Drug-resistant M. tuberculosis bacteria have infected roughly 650,000 people, meaning their cases of TB may not be cured using current TB treatment strategies. Research into alternative drugs or strategies to treat drug-resistant TB is critical to controlling the spread of this dangerous infection.

In 2011, there were more than 10,000 cases of TB reported in the United States. There is good news, however: the number of TB cases in the U.S. has declined each year since 1992. Roughly 100 of the reported TB cases in the U.S. in 2011 were caused by drug-resistant bacteria infecting someone who had never been diagnosed with TB. You can learn more about the global TB burden at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and through this Research!America fact sheet.

This study group was led by William R.  Jacobs, Jr, PhD, faculty at Albert Einstein, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and recently elected member of the National Academy of Sciences. This peer-reviewed research was published online in Nature Communications. Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University is a member of Research!America.

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