Jessica Sieff | March 26, 2017
In the time it takes to read this article, half a dozen people will have died from tuberculosis (TB).
It is a cruel and persistent killer, claiming 1.8 million lives each year, an estimated 200,000 of which are children, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Considering the gravity of those numbers, it’s even more alarming to know that many cases go unreported.
“Tuberculosis is the most prevalent infectious disease that the world has seen, based on the number of people infected and the number of resulting fatalities,” said Jeff Schorey, George B. Craig Jr. Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. “It is the single leading cause of death by an infectious organism.”
World Tuberculosis Day marks the official discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis by Dr. Robert Koch on March 24, 1882. But the infectious disease is considered to date back thousands of years. It causes death worldwide, primarily affecting low- and middle-income countries. Pulmonary TB can spread with a cough, infecting anyone in the vicinity. Patients require access to first-line drugs and face a six-month regimen of multiple antibiotics. An incomplete course of antibiotics poses an increased risk for developing multi-drug-resistant TB.
“What you need for any infectious disease is a vaccine,” Schorey said. “In the absence of that, you need dependable and effective drugs with minimal side effects, if at all. You also need reliable diagnostics to determine who needs to be treated.”
Research plays a vital role in the fight to end the tuberculosis epidemic.
Schorey, a world-renowned expert with pioneering work on the role of exosomes in infectious diseases, has been studying mycobacterial disease for almost two decades. It has been his main research focus at Notre Dame. With grants from the National Institutes of Health, his lab studies the relationship between mycobacteria, the causative agent of TB, and macrophages, cells of the immune system, which can fall victim to the TB pathogen when infected.