FORBES | Fighting Fire With Fire: Can We Kill Super-Resistant Mycobacteria With Viruses?

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Published: 9May2019

TB is an airborne infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. When streptomycin was first discovered in the 1940s, there was tremendous hope that TB could be defeated. But TB bacteria quickly became resistant to streptomycin when it was given alone. We quickly learnt that TB requires a combination of drugs to fend off drug-resistance.

Today, drug-sensitive TB treatment requires 4 drugs (isoniazid, rifampicin, pyrazinamid and ethambutol) during the first two months, followed by two antibiotics (isoniazid and rifampicin) for an additional 4 months. DR-TB treatment requires prolonged therapy (often, 24 months) with several, toxic medicines, including those that cause deafness and psychosis.

There is a desperate need for new and alternative therapies. One such alternative might be killing TB bacteria with viruses that destroy bacteria (i.e. bacteriophages), says Madhukar Pai, Canada Research Chair in Epidemiology & Global Health at McGill University, Montreal, and Director of the McGill TB Centre.

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