Goldilocks gene for personalised TB treatment
Experiments in zebrafish have uncovered a gene that affects how the body responds to TB infection. The findings could allow doctors to base their prescription on the version of the gene the patient has, so that the treatment better complements the patient’s natural response to the infection. With an estimated 1.7 million deaths worldwide in 2009 caused by TB, mostly in developing countries, this research could prove extremely important for human health in years to come.
The zebrafish studies identified a gene that determines the level of inflammation, the immune system’s way of fighting the infection. One version of the LTA4H gene results in too little inflammation, another too much, and a third results in just the right amount.
The findings indicate that patients are likely to benefit from different drug treatments depending on which version of LTA4H they have. Doctors use steroids to reduce the inflammation. But the new findings show that steroids could make the situation worse if the patient possesses the gene version that produces too little inflammation.
The researchers genetically tested 500 people who had contracted TB and had been treated with steroids. Only those having the gene that led to too much inflammation benefitted from the use of steroids.
A simple blood test could now be developed to determine whether the patient should receive steroid treatment or not. This could save money and improve patient care. Doctors believe that more and more medicines are going to be personalised in this way in the future. It is already a common feature in the treatment of many cancers.
For some history on the treatment of tuberculosis, plesae see our page on the first medicine for TB.