A centuries-old herbal medicine, discovered by Chinese scientists and used to effectively treat malaria, has been found to potentially aid in the treatment of tuberculosis and may slow the evolution of drug resistance. In a promising study led by Robert Abramovitch, Ph.D., a Michigan State University microbiologist and TB expert, the ancient remedy artemisinin stopped the ability of TB-causing bacteria, known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, to become dormant. This stage of the disease often makes the use of antibiotics ineffective. The study was published online on December 19, 2016 in Nature Chemical Biology. The article is titled “Inhibitors of Mycobacterium tuberculosis DosRST Signaling and Persistence.” “When TB bacteria are dormant, they become highly tolerant [resistant] to antibiotics," Dr. Abramovitch said, an Assistant Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. "Blocking dormancy makes the TB bacteria more sensitive to these drugs and could shorten treatment times." One-third of the world's population is infected with TB and the disease killed 1.8 million people in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) needs oxygen to thrive in the body. The immune system starves this bacterium of oxygen to control the infection. Dr. Abramovitch and his team found that artemisinin attacks a molecule called heme, which is found in the Mtb oxygen sensor. By disrupting this sensor and essentially turning it off, the artemisinin stopped the disease's ability to sense how much oxygen it was getting. "When the Mtb is starved of oxygen, it goes into a dormant state, which protects it from the stress of low-oxygen environments," Dr. Abramovitch said. "If Mtb can't sense low oxygen, then it can't become dormant and will die." Dr.
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