Bone marrow stem cells may provide a way to target and treat inactive tuberculosis, which can hide in the body and emerge later on down the road, well after aggressive drug therapy.
Researchers from the Forsyth Institute in Boston and Stanford University say they are the first to find evidence that tuberculosis bacteria can lay dormant and thrive in mesenchymal stem cells in the bone marrow of people treated for the disease.
"By gaining a greater understanding of latent TB, we can potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year," said lead researcher Antonio Campos-Neto, director of the Center for Global Infectious Diseases at the Forsyth Institute, in a statement.
Campos-Neto and his team conducted in vitro experiments, as well as in vivo using an animal model of latent TB, and collected data from human patients treated for TB. They found that TB can infect and persist in a dormant state for long periods of time within mesenchymal stem cells--self-renewing cells that can differentiate into a variety of cell types. TB benefits from being inside these cells, which possess a special machinery to exclude external molecules such as anti-TB drugs from entering their cytoplasm.
The findings have been published in Science Translational Medicine.
Though TB isn't as prominent anymore in First World countries because of medicines that have been developed in the past 50 years, the infection is still widespread. More than 2.2 billion people--a third of the world's population--are infected with the deadly bacteria that causes TB.