As research continues to point to the links between some of the tiniest organisms on the planet and our health, we learn more and more regarding the vital role microbes play in the immune response. From allergies to skin conditions (like eczema) to gastrointestinal dysfunction, and now tuberculosis (TB), the absence (or presence) of microbes like bacteria can play a critical roles in the development, and increasingly, the cure for these problems.
As the latest example of the role bacteria can play in overcoming these diseases, Spanish scientists presented clinical trial results to the 45th Conference on Lung Health in Barcelona. Though this conference or much of the information presented hardly registered a blip in the news, there were many items of importance that surfaced. As previously demonstrated on mice and now hundreds of volunteers, a probiotic derived from a specific bacteria has been shown to moderate the immune response to tuberculosis. When used for two weeks the probiotic essentially teaches the body how to tolerate the mycobacterium tuberculosis preventing the resulting lung infection that is the hallmark of TB.
While the immune system fights disease, in the case of TB, it can actually aid in the progression of the infection. Microphages, a type of white blood cell, engulf and digest debris and microbes within our body. Once the immune system identifies the TB bacteria as a threat, microphages set out to engulf and digest them. Often though, the bacteria isn't destroyed and instead replicates and ultimately kills off the microphage. The probiotic, by encouraging the immune system to ignore the bacteria, reduces its ability to become an active infection and tamps down the inflammation response that is key to this.
While TB was nearly eradicated during the 1950s, thanks to antibiotics, the bacteria has resurfaced in a more virulent active form that is resistant to many of the common antibiotics that have worked in the past. TB affects tens of millions annually and currently requires extensive and often expensive treatments. This makes the Nyaditum resae (name of the new probiotic) even more newsworthy since use requires weeks, not months or years, and the projected cost is about $5 (Yup, FIVE BUCKS!). Here in the U.S., the cost to treat TB can range from as low as $17,000 to as high as $430,000 (for the most drug resistant strains). Instances of TB in the U.S. is relatively low, just over 9500 cases in 2013.
Nyaditum resae is to be first available in India where nearly 1.5 million incidences of TB surface annually. While the initial article I came across used the ‘c’ word, as in cure, that is not quite the case. However, if the probiotic can manage to successfully retrain the immune response to the bacteria, it could theoretically prevent the active, contagious form of the disease, and for most, that's just as good as eradicating it.
A full list of abstracts from the 45th World Conference on Lung Health.
More Posts on the Link Between Microbes and Our Health:
Positive Link Between Absence of Gut Bacteria and Allergy Development
Fungi Diversity In Lungs Link to Asthma
Bacteria Triggers Allergic Response?
Hygiene Hypothesis and Stomach Bacteria
Author: K. Gilmore
Figures courtesy of CDC.gov and TBFacts.org