Heat-shock proteins, which are protective substances, produced by the body in stressful situations may help the immune system kill the TB bacteria, researchers in the UK report. According to a report in the June issue of the journal Nature Medicine, these heat-shock proteins, which are special proteins produced by the body help cells survive stressful times and bolster the immune system of the body.
In the study Dr. Graham R. Stewart, of Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine in London, and colleagues developed a mutant form of the TB bacterium that produced extra heat-shock proteins. The altered TB bacterium was able to grow in the lab and was able to cause an acute infection in mice. But this mutant form of TB did not cause a chronic infection unlike ordinary TB bacteria. It is possible that high levels of heat-shock proteins block the TVB bacterium's ability to infect cells, but another explanation is that the presence of extra heat-shock proteins sends a warning to the immune system, the report indicates.
This study has led the scientists headed by Dr. Stewart to opine that finding a way to produce extra heat-shock proteins represents a potential method of protecting people from TB. Dr. Stewart added that the study demonstrated the potential for a new class of drugs, which by inducing the bacterium to manufacture heat-shock proteins would make it vulnerable to our own natural immunity, enabling us to clear the infection.
This research assumes importance because of the fact that tuberculosis kills more people than any other infectious disease in the world. But the sad part is that a third of the world's population is carrying the disease without any symptoms and without being aware of the fact that they are harboring the infection within themselves.