YOUR HEALTH: Heading into deep water to treat TB

BOCA RATON, Florida – Tuberculosis, or TB, now affects one-third of the world population, mostly people in developing nations.

Researchers at two different Florida universities are teaming up to see if a better treatment could be buried deep in the ocean.

"There's estimated about nine million new cases every year and it leads to about one and a half million deaths per year," explained Kyle Rohde, a researcher with the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.

Treatment for most strains of TB involves a cocktail of multiple drugs for six to nine months, but there are an increasing number of drug-resistant strains.

"About half the people who get a multi-drug resistant tb infection will die from it," Florida Atlantic research professor Amy Wright said.

"And we don't really have good drugs for that."

That's why researchers are going to unusual depths for new answers.

"There's a long successful track record of nature already providing the chemicals that we might use as antibiotics and the marine environment in particular is underexplored," said Rohde.

Wright collects samples of sea sponges and soft coral.   Her team extracts natural chemical products within these organisms and sends those samples to Kyle Rohde.   So far, Rohde has tested about 4500 different marine samples.

"We think that allowed us to find a few that seemed to selectively target those bacteria that we think mimic the hard to kill one during infection," said Ruhde.

The samples that do show promise are sent back to Wright.   Her team figures out the structure of the compound.

"Then the next step would be to synthesize it and maybe optimize the structure so it gives an even better activity against TB."

Both Rohde and Wright say one of the reasons TB is hard to treat is because the treatment regimen is very long.    Patients will stop taking the antibiotics once they feel better, but they still have the infection.

That's why researchers say if they are able to find a more potent antibiotic, that may lead to a shorter treatment period.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.