Promising new JCU tuberculosis research funded

A James Cook University researcher is developing a replacement for the sole, 100-year-old TB vaccine that is only effective against TB in children.

Dr Andreas Kupz is a Senior Research Fellow at JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine. He said TB is a leading infectious cause of death globally, with 10 million active cases and 1.5 million deaths annually, as well as two billion people latently infected with the bacteria that causes the disease.

“Despite this, the only licensed TB vaccine, named Bacille Calmette-Guérin or BCG, was developed 100 years ago. It is universally used to prevent TB in children, but has low effectiveness against reactivation of latent TB and against active TB in adults and is not recommended for people with impaired immunity,” said Dr Kupz.

“Part of the reason there has been no new TB vaccine in all this time is that research has focused on TB as a disease of the lungs. Our research also includes investigations into lymphatic stages of the disease, which opens up entirely new possibilities for a vaccine,” said Dr Kupz.

Dr Kupz and his team of collaborators have recently been given four large grants – from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($US 1.7m), The National Institutes of Health USA ($US 3m) and two from the Australian federal government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (totalling $A 2.6m) over the next five years – to further develop the JCU vaccine, to directly compare it to other vaccine candidates from around the world and to gain a better understanding of TB disease.

“Our research projects will not only significantly advance the research fields of TB vaccinology, latent TB reactivation and TB/Type 2 diabetes comorbidity, but could also deliver a safe and effective vaccinecandidate that can be administered to patients with suppressed immune systems to prevent TB. This could save millions of lives globally,” said Dr Kupz.

He said disease elimination from Indigenous communities is one of the most direct ways to improve the health status of the population and to contribute to ‘closing the gap’ in Indigenous morbidity and mortality.

“Papua New Guinea has one of the highest incidences of multi-drug resistant TB, and the introduction of TB into Australia is an increasing national public health concern.

“Queensland has unique challenges in TB control, with a high proportion of cross-border diagnoses, an incidence of TB about 30 times that of the rest of Australia, and an over-representation of Indigenous children with the disease.

“With an aging population, an increase in drug resistant TB and exponential rise in type 2 diabetes, TB/type 2 diabetes comorbidity will be one of the major public health challenges of the 21st century.

The development of a new and effective TB vaccine is crucial if TB is to be significantly reduced, let alone eradicated, within the coming decades.”

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