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Very Old Chinese Herbal Medicine May Fight TB, Study Says

Jan 02, 2017 06:00 AM EST

It appears an ancient Chinese herbal remedy may play a major role in treating tuberculosis. This is simply a year after it was proved effective to be instrumental in fighting malaria.

The compound, called artemisinin, comes from a form of wormwood called Artemisia annua.

According to Science Alert, it has been recently identified as an effective malaria treatment that led to a Nobel prize for Chinese pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou in 2015.

Now new research is proving to be instrumental in using the molecule to fight the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.

The team is led by microbiologist Robert Abramovitch from Michigan State University. According to Michigan State University Today, he screened more than 500,000 compounds in the lab and found artemisinin is capable of blocking a defensive mechanism used by the TB-causing bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb).

According to Science Alert, Abramovitch said dormat TB bacteria became highly tolerant of antibiotics. Blocking such a dormancy can make the bacteria more sensitive to these drugs. Mtb needs oxygen to thrive in its human hosts, so one of the things the immune system does is to deprive it of oxygen, creating what is called a granuloma.

Unfortunately, this doesn't kill Mtb as it switches into a "survival mode," that essentially protects it from low-oxygen environments.

The idea then is to find a compound to prevent Mtb from sensing oxygen deprivation. The idea was to stop bacteria from being dormant so that it would be more susceptible to antibiotics.

Abramovitch and his team found six different chemical inhibitor molecules that target Mtb's oxygen sensor in a lot of ways.

In the case of artemisinin, the compound attacks an Mtb molecule called heme that, when disrupted, effectively turns Mtb's oxygen sensor off. This can hypothetically increase the bacteria's vulnerability to TB treatments.

In other words, artemisinin could speed up the delivery of antibiotics, and the shorter treatment window could be all the different patients need.

This is important as not a lot of patients stick through the long process of treating TB. Sadly, incomplete therapy may play a big role in the evolution of the disease.

The usage of artemisinin to combat Mtb is a good start, though tests on humans are a long way away as they have to test the efficacy of the method first. However, this can be a good start in treating Mtb, which currently has two-billion people infected.

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