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Australian molecular microbiology students’ breakthrough in TB

Australian researchers and students at the University of Queensland are using their innovation to tackle tuberculosis (TB) – one of the world’s leading infectious-disease killers.

University of Queensland students have identified promising inhibitory compounds during a molecular microbiology practical course this semester.

TB is the leading cause of death due to an infectious agent, globally killing approximately two million people each year.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible, currently infects over one third of the world’s population and, although most cases respond to standard antibiotic therapy, drug resistant strains are on the rise and new antibiotics for TB are urgently needed.

Students at the University of Queensland’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences have discovered five or six compounds that inhibited growth in a harmless bacterium related to TB.

TB research head Dr Nick West said it appears that students have identified some very interesting compounds and resulted in further research now being a reality.

“There has not been a new general use anti-TB drug for 50 years,” Dr West said

The students were undertaking a UQ microbiology course in which they screened a compound library for inhibitors of TB, working through 7000 random compounds.

Dr West said the exciting breakthrough came when they realised a small number completely inhibited the bacteria.

TB resistance will be raised at the upcoming G20 summit this month in Hamburg, Germany and there is hope that political will can be fostered to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and turn the tide on tuberculosis.

This comes on top of a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly late last year that moved to ensure UNGA hold the first-ever high-level meeting on the fight against tuberculosis in 2018. 

Meredith Horne