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Medical College of Wisconsin researcher to investigate tuberculosis bacterium

Sept. 24, 2012

The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) received a two-year award for more than $400,000 from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study how the bacterium which causes tuberculosis (TB) survives inside the human body in a latent state which is less susceptible to antibiotics.

Thomas Zahrt, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, is the principal investigator for the grant.

TB is a respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. More than 8.5 million people worldwide were diagnosed with the disease in 2010, and more than one million died from the illness. The World Health Organization estimates that about one-third of the world’s population (two billion people) has a latent form of TB. In these cases, illness and symptoms can appear a significant amount of time after initial exposure to the TB bacterium, usually due to a secondary event that weakens the immune system.

Dr. Zahrt’s lab is interested in discovering the mechanisms by which M. tuberculosis persists during the latent infection stage, as well as how the bacterium reactivates after months or years of dormancy. This project will study an enzyme believed to be necessary for the bacterium to produce energy and survive during latency.

The findings from this research will generate new insight into the dormant phase of the bacterium responsible for TB, and may reveal new targets for therapies that can treat TB during latency despite its decreased susceptibility to antibiotics.

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