TB markers freed by lung degradation boost treatment promise

Tuberculosis' destruction of the lungs could ultimately open up new avenues of treatment. That's because fragments freed by the breakdown of the lung's key proteins in TB patients may prove to be promising new biomarkers for the disease in a number of ways, U.K. and South African researchers have concluded in a new study. 

Crucially, they see the newly identified substances as opening the door to both better diagnostics and treatments for the first time in decades.

"These lung breakdown products have never been identified in TB before and have the potential to be used as new markers to identify patients with TB and monitor the effect of new treatments," lead study author Paul Elkington at the University of Southampton said in a statement.

It's an early finding, of course. And more research is needed to validate the initial results. But the study is promising enough that the research team is moving ahead with a study of all fragments freed by lung decline in TB patients. They'll use that data to develop diagnostic tests a patient can use at bedside.

The gist: The sputum of patients with TB contains fragments released by the breakdown of the lungs' key proteins, collagen and elastin, as TB damage escalates. Additionally, they found the PIIINP collagen fragment at higher-than-normal blood levels in TB patient blood samples.

As Elkington notes, there's a huge need for both diagnostics and treatments, with 1.5 million people globally dying from TB each year, largely in the developing world. These patients are hammered by the increase of drug-resistant infections, Elkington said. And they continue to rely on first-line TB tests and drugs that haven't changed for three decades. And so new diagnostic tests and treatments are crucial to combat TB as it proliferates.

Beyond the University of Southampton, colleagues at Imperial College London, the University of Cape Town in South Africa and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV in Durban also participated, along with other colleagues. The Journal of Infectious Diseases published details of their work.

- read the release
- here's the study