Irish-led researchers develop inhaler that helps treat tuberculosis

Irish-based researchers have developed a new, practical treatment that could help tackle one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

A team led by researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has developed an inhaler that reduces the bacteria in the lungs that cause tuberculosis. It also helps the patient’s immune system fight the disease.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide.

In 2017, it caused 1.6m fatalities and affected 10m people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO estimates that there were 558,000 new cases with resistance to the most effective first-line antibiotic.

Of those strains of TB that are resistant, 82% were resistant to multiple antibiotics.

TB is spread when people breathe infected droplets into their lungs, where the disease can remain dormant or spread further.

The only vaccine developed for TB, which has been in use since 1921, is unreliable in preventing the most common form of TB, and is not suitable for use by all patient groups.

The vaccine works best against specific forms of TB and is usually given to infants who are in at-risk populations.

Ending the TB epidemic by 2030 is listed among the health targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The researchers, whose work has been published in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics & Biopharmaceutics, make use of a derivative of Vitamin A called all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), which previous studies have shown is an effective treatment for tuberculosis.

The ATRA is packaged within safe-for-consumption particles that are small enough to use in an inhaler.

The work, led by Gemma O’Connor and Sally-Ann Cryan in RCSI, was carried out in collaboration with research teams in St James’s Hospital, Trinity College Dublin, and Imperial College London.

“Many cases of TB are now becoming resistant to existing antibiotics,” Prof Cryan said.

“This new treatment could be used alongside antibiotics to treat drug-resistant TB and also possibly reduce the rate of antibiotic resistance resulting from conventional antibiotic treatments.”

Joseph Keane led the research team based at St James’s Hospital.

“Unfortunately, tuberculosis remains a significant problem for world health,” Prof Keane said.

“We urgently need innovative treatments like this one, if we are to achieve the UN 2030 health targets.”

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