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. Continue reading →
On February 26, the Global Health Technologies Coalition held a Capitol Hill briefing, “Renewing US leadership: Policies to advance global health research.” The briefing included displays from global health nonprofits, the launch of GHTC’s fourth annual policy report as well as a panel discussion. Panelists included Dr. Lee Hall, Chief of Parasitology and International Programs at NIAID, Dr. Alan Magill, Director of Malaria at the Gates Foundation and Dr. Caroline Ryan, Deputy Coordinator for Technical Leadership at PEPFAR. Each highlighted key U.S. contributions to global health including the development of a rapid TB diagnostic, advances in HIV/AIDS treatment and delivery through PEPFAR and a new treatment for leishmaniasis developed in part by researchers at the Department of Defense. Speakers pointed out that many of these medical breakthroughs were accomplished through leveraging U.S. government funding and working in public-private partnerships. All speakers expressed concern that cutting federal funding for global health research could jeopardize progress for these lifesaving tools.
In particular, Alan Magill warned of “breaking something that will be very difficult to put back together.” Speaker and moderator Lisa Cohen, Executive Director of the Washington Global Health Alliance, wrapped up the session citing Research!America poll data and reminding us that there is incredible support for this work – we just need to connect the dots for decision makers and funders. “78% of Americans think it is important to support global health research – we don’t think about this but when Americans are asked, it is clear that people care about these issues.”
–Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
This week, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino declared a public health emergency in the city due to a flu outbreak. City officials have confirmed 700 cases of the flu, nearly ten times the confirmed cases last year; four people have died so far. Outbreaks have been reported in other areas of the country, affecting individuals of all ages and backgrounds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. It’s hard to imagine the dire health consequences Americans would endure without the flu vaccine, which is due in part to federal investments in research. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have made efforts to improve production capacity, including improving guidance about the approval process, working with manufacturers to ensure adequate supplies of vaccines are available for the general population, and researching different strains of the virus that surface each flu season.
The Influenza Genome Sequencing Project, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is helping researchers understand how flu viruses evolve, spread and cause disease. As of January 3, entire genetic blueprints of more than 10,000 human and avian influenza viruses taken from samples around the world have been completed. The project is helping scientists understand how influenza viruses evolve and spread, thereby keeping Americans healthy.
The best way to stay healthy this flu season is to heed to the recommendation of public health officials: Get vaccinated!
On Friday, September 7, at the National Institutes of Health campus, the Trans-NIH Global Health Working Group hosted a lecture titled, “Rapid, automated diagnostics for tuberculosis: a potential new benchmark.” Mark Perkins, MD, who has worked at the Global Tuberculosis Programme of the World Health Organization and is currently the chief scientific officer at the Foundation for New Innovative Diagnostics (FIND), discussed the development of a new testing method for tuberculosis.
Identified as the cause of death for 1.4 million individuals in 2010, including people in the United States, TB is a significant global health concern. However, it is consistently underdiagnosed due to inadequate and outdated testing methods. As Perkins explained, “The primary test for TB in 2004 was practically the same as the primary test for TB in 1882.”
These outdated methods could take weeks to deliver results and could not detect drug resistant strains of TB, leaving patients completely untreated or treated with the wrong drugs. With recent reports from WHO estimating that 9% of TB cases worldwide are extremely drug resistant, new methods to recognize these strains were desperately needed.
Funded in part by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, collaboration between FIND (a Geneva -based product development partnership involved in research for global health), California-based biotech Cepheid and the University for Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey led to the development of a new diagnostic for tuberculosis in 2010. The test, called Xpert MTB/RIF, allows health care workers to diagnose TB and detect drug resistance in less than 2 hours. The speed and accuracy of this test allows individuals to receive appropriate treatment the very day they are diagnosed, which is critical in those parts of the world where many patients live far away from medical centers. The Xpert machine has already been implemented in several countries with remarkable success; in clinical trials, more than 95% of TB infections have been accurately identified.
In light of this success, several audience members raised questions regarding the broader applications of this diagnostic. Perkins noted that Xpert could be used as a basic model for new diagnostics to identify other strains of drug-resistant TB and possibly other diseases as well. Other audience members had questions about the feasibility of implementing this diagnostic in low-income settings. In response to an inquiry about the costliness of the test, Perkins noted that “because TB has such a high mortality rate, any successful diagnostic tool is cost effective.”
He pointed out that the U.S. government and other partners have agreed to help finance the manufacturing of this test, reducing the market price from $16.68 to $9.98 per test. Perkins emphasized that this kind of support for new diagnostics is crucial, particularly because TB tests are not the only outdated diagnostic. Although new diagnostic tools could dramatically improve treatment for several diseases, only a few private companies and PDPs are working to develop them. Continued U.S. government support for this project and R&D for new diagnostics is essential for future efforts to combat critical global health issues.