At the height of the media frenzy surrounding recent tuberculosis scares, CSU researchers are hailed as a favorite in the hunt for a vaccine.
But as the costs of research remain sky-high, efforts to thwart the spread of the infectious and highly contagious disease have slowed.
“We’ve figured out how to do it,” said Ian Orme, a CSU microbiology professor and leader of the team testing a TB vaccine. “The sad news right now is that to push this forward, we need extensive funding.”
“Unfortunately, this is sort of stored out at this point, and I’m looking at alternative ways to get it funded,” he added.
TB can be transferred through coughing, sneezing, or spitting, contaminating air particles, which spread the disease when breathed by non-infected individuals. The disease often attacks a victim’s lungs, infecting tissue and causing organ failure, according to MedicineNet.com.
Over years, vaccines and drugs have been developed to prevent and treat TB. However, scientists have become aware of strains that are ‘drug-resistant’ and are able to bypass traditional methods of protection.
“The TB germ has evolved for a variety of reasons to become resistant to our first line treatment, which are drugs,” said Mary Ann DeGroote, assistant professor of microbiology at CSU. “We have a particularly urgent agenda to find new drugs.”
Developed by a team of microbiology researchers, including scientists from China and Columbia, the most recent vaccine is notably unique. Besides potentially stopping all forms of TB, the drug comes without a manufactured adjuvant — an additive that enhances the effectiveness of the treatment, as well as stimulating the immune system by its presence.
Adjuvant require thorough mixing and purifying, making them expensive additions.
Because of the hefty price of manufacturing the vaccine and its components, research is on hiatus at CSU.
Orme said his team used prior research to figure out how to bypass the adjuvant, instead allowing the vaccine to help the body create it naturally.
“It was just a spur of the moment idea,” Orme said. “We thought, ‘well, shouldn’t that just switch on immunity without all these fancy extra oils?'”
A year later, the vaccine had passed the proof of principle stage, proving effective against cultured TB.
The vaccine has entered early stages of preliminary assay testing and is continuing to prove effective in preventing TB as well as showing potential in treating tissue already exposed to TB — a possible breakthrough in treatment of the disease.
Despite the progress, Orme says testing in his department has slowed because funding from the National Institute of Health is currently unavailable.
Orme says, however, that other foundations might possibly offer funding and breathe new life into the research.
Microbiology studies have brought in about $40 million in research grants to the university, despite CSU lacking a medical school.
Randall Basaraba, associate professor of pathology, says the CSU Pathology Department will be focused on the lesions caused by TB.
Once more money comes in, she said, future testing will take place, primarily on mice and guinea pigs, giving the department the ability to observe the vaccine’s effect.
“When we expose animals to the infection, we look at the tissue sections and see if the vaccine or drug worked,” Basaraba said. “The other part is more basic science, understanding how that lesion is developing, how it changes in response.”
Staff writer Erik Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.