Courtesy of Cornell Research

February 15, 2019

Weill Cornell Lab Makes Discovery in Tuberculosis Research and Treatment

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A new Weill Cornell lab discovery that could decreases Tuberculosis bacterial resistance was a breakthrough in the disease’s treatment.

After an estimated 70,000 years uncured, tuberculosis has learned to persist and become part of the human community, according to Prof. Carl Nathan, the principal investigator of the lab and dean of the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences.

The bacteria that cause tuberculosis quickly become resistant to new drug treatments, making tuberculosis treatment difficult. The lab discovered a compound that can slow this process and published their results in Science this month.

Tuberculosis is the single leading cause of death for human infectious diseases. The infectious disease works by attacking the immune system. It mainly affects the lungs, with symptoms including coughing and chest pain.

Although the lab’s research officially began five years ago, their discovery of the compound started earlier. Nathan’s lab conducted a screening campaign where they tested thousands of drugs to find one that can kill the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, according to Prof. Kristen Burns-Huang, microbiology, the lab manager.

Following the discovery, the lab obtained grant funding from the National Institute of Health to further pursue this research. The lab has also received funding from the Gates Foundation to work on a screening campaign.

According to Burns-Huang, very little is currently known about the compound and there are many directions this research can go.

“This study has taken me to a fork in the road, and I don’t have the discipline to choose only one branch,” Nathan told The Sun.

With the lab’s new funding, Nathan plans to explore the biology of the compound that can diminish drug resistance. However, he says there are still many more steps that must be taken before their discovery can lead to a viable tuberculosis drug.

“Finding an inhibitor of a bacterial enzyme is not the same as finding a drug,” Nathan said. “Academics don’t have a good track record, neither do drug companies.”