Half a world away from most of the world’s tuberculosis victims, researchers lead the fight against a disease that still ravages millions of lives in developing countries, and lurks in the shadows of the most developed nations. The largest tuberculosis research group in the country – 170 scientists and students – is tucked into the foothills of Colorado at Colorado State University.
An old disease that needs new cures
Although tuberculosis has been found to have existed thousands of years ago, there have been few medical advancements in tuberculosis prevention and treatment in the last half century.
While many people in the developed world dismiss tuberculosis as a disease that is all but eradicated, this team of dedicated scientists at CSU knows all too well that tuberculosis causes 1.4 million new illnesses each year, and in 2009, the year the World Health Organization says the success of treatment peaked, more than 9 million children were orphans from tuberculosis.
No new forms of treatment for tuberculosis have emerged in decades, and skin scratch test that are 100 years old still are the standard in poor countries. The average treatment for a person with tuberculosis is six months on multiple antibiotics. And, the threat of tuberculosis is renewed around the world with emerging strains of tuberculosis that are resistant to many – and in some cases, all—treatments. Of the millions of new cases each year, close to half a million are resistant to multiple drugs that usually effectively treat the disease. Yet, most drug companies do not look for new treatments or tests for tuberculosis because the countries with the most significant struggle against tuberculosis cannot afford medicine.
Innovation and commitment
That’s where Colorado State University comes in. In addition to conducting basic scientific research into the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, the university has researchers devoted to finding cheap, easy and accurate ways to test for tuberculosis, new drugs to treat it, and vaccines to prevent tuberculosis before or after exposure. The university also houses a program that helps to test anti-tuberculosis compounds for other laboratories around the world.
For the first time in years, scientists are making significant advancements that may help in the fight against tuberculosis. Some of the tuberculosis vaccines and drugs that have been tested at CSU are now in clinical trials in South Africa, and the university continues to make meaningful discoveries in basic research to understand the bacterium that causes tuberculosis and the host’s immune response. Because of its excellence, the team continuously receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Separated by many miles, bound by history
Although sheltered by thousands of miles from the majority of tuberculosis cases in the world, Colorado has a long history with the disease. The state’s climate was actively sought after by people with tuberculosis in the 1800s and 1900s.
In 1925, the Health Committee of the City Club of Denver said that about 60 percent of Colorado’s population had originally immigrated to the state to receive treatment for tuberculosis and benefit from the arid climate. Many of Colorado’s top hospitals today began as tuberculosis sanatoriums. Today in Colorado about 70 new cases of active tuberculosis are documented each year.
The World Health Organization recognizes tuberculosis as a continuing global health threat, and Colorado State University’s program is an international leader, both in its comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach to tuberculosis research, and in the sheer size of the team dedicated to helping slow the spread of tuberculosis and to treating the millions of people infected with tuberculosis around the globe.
Facts and Figures
- Tuberculosis has been called consumption, Pott’s disease, the white plague, scrofula, phthisis and yaksma throughout the ages.
- Tuberculosis is recorded as far back in history as the Old Testament of the Bible. Hippocrates wrote about tuberculosis in Greek literature around 460 BC, and Shakespeare mentioned it in Macbeth.
- TB is estimated to have reached its peak world-wide sometime during the 19th century, but numbers weren’t officially tracked before the 19th century.
- In 1944, the first antibiotic effective against TB was on the market.
- In 1970, first outbreak of drug-resistant TB in USA was documented.
- HIV in the 1980s cased tuberculosis cases to rise, as well as the rise of drug-resistant strains.
- In 1993, the World Health Organization declared a tuberculosis global health emergency because of resurgence of the disease.
- First recorded outbreak of MDR-TB at a London hospital HIV unit in 1995. MDR-TB is tuberculosis that is resistant to multiple drugs.
- Every year, nearly half a million new people contract multi-drug resistant TB occur worldwide.
- By the end of 2011, 77 countries reported at least one case of “extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis,” or XDR-TB, which is resistant to a wider range of drugs than MDR-TB.
- According to the World Health Organization, 22 countries account for 80 percent of the world’s tuberculosis cases. In many of these countries, more than 300 out of every 100,000 people have tuberculosis.
- In 2010, 1.4 million people died from tuberculosis, an average of 3,800 TB deaths each day..
- In March 2012, the WHO reported that cases of TB that were resistant to all TB drugs, unofficially dubbed Totally-Drug Resistant, or TDR-TB, were emerging and becoming more frequent, with the first cases noted in 2009. Recent cases were reported in India, with about 25 documented cases by early summer, 2012.
Innovation Recognized by NIH
Diane Ordway, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health for innovations in research with a $2 million grant over five years. Dr. Ordway discovered that laboratory strains of tuberculosis used in research programs do not invoke the same response in hosts as current strains of tuberculosis infecting most patients.