National Institutes of Health funds $13.7 million for Texas tuberculosis study

The National Institute of Health has granted $13.7 million for a five-year tuberculosis research project, headed by Dr. Jim Sacchettini and a team of scientists with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

Sacchettini said the team will examine three-dimensional structures of a large number of proteins in the TB genome. Their goal is to discover new drugs to treat the disease.

He said the project is the only large-scale structural biology project in the NIH program that will focus on a single organism.

The team will collaborate on the grant with researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles, University of California-Berkeley and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

"We will work on the proteins (from Mycobacteria TB) which, as drug targets, have the potential of reducing to just a few weeks what is now 6-9 months of chemotherapy," Sacchettini said.

He explained that while TB is curable, most people inflicted with the disease do not finish their treatment because the time required is lengthy.

The bacteria that causes the disease, Mycobacterium TB, can evade the human immune system and drug therapy for years by living in a persistent and dormant state.

"When they awake, the infection can reactivate in the person," he said.

The grant is a continuation of Sacchettini's TB research efforts and is important because every second, someone in the world is newly infected with TB bacilli, according to the United Nation's World Health Organization.

About one-third of the world's population is currently infected with the TB bacillus and about 1.7 million died of TB in 2004, according to the WHO's latest figures.

Sacchettini's research team, which collaborates with 90 laboratories in 15 countries, uses protein crystallography, a method of examining molecules three-dimensionally to find, for example, places that might be good sites for a drug to latch on as it fights the disease. These d

Contact: Kathleen Phillips
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

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