Johns Hopkins Children's Center has received a $946,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to design a system that visually tracks the behavior of the tuberculosis bacterium in the body and its response to current and new drug treatments.
The new system, to be developed and tested initially in animals, would enable direct real-time observation of disease progression and response to treatment. The hope is that ultimately it would help scientists develop faster, cheaper drug therapies for humans more quickly and let physicians rapidly adjust drug treatment when and if needed.
Sanjay Jain, M.D., the lead investigator on the project, which is being conducted at the Hopkins Center for TB Research, says the ability to do real-time monitoring of TB, a disease that affects 8.8 million people a year, is critical in helping researchers evaluate the efficacy of drug regimens in real time. "In the global fight against TB, we desperately need new ways to better monitor disease response to new drugs and old ones," Jain says.
The new technology will in essence provide "live" footage of TB-causing bacteria with the aid of injected radio-tracing chemicals that attach to and illuminate the germ and surrounding tissues in the lung.
Multiple images taken by CT, PET and SPECT scanners would then reveal the extent of lung tissue damage, inflammation (a hallmark of disease activity) and the number of bacteria present, respectively.
"With technology like this we should get accurate and much faster assessment of drug efficacy in animal testing, which means faster, cheaper experiments, involving fewer animals," Jain notes. "We also hope that this technology could be used to monitor TB in humans."
The pressure for faster-acting drugs and shorter treatment regimens is high because current TB treatments require six months or more to cure the disease completely. New drug combinations are also needed to treat the multidrug-resistant and the extensively drug-resistant strains of TB, which are a growing problem worldwide.