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NZ TB Study Highlights Immune Response In Lungs

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Dr Joanna Kirman
Dr Joanna Kirman

Wellington, Oct 7 NZPA - New Zealand scientists with special expertise in human immune systems say recent research indicates the key to tackling the deadly disease tuberculosis may lie in understanding how the immune system responds to it.

The head of the Wellington-based Malaghan Institute's infectious diseases research programme, Dr Joanna Kirman, has developed a novel strategy of trapping immune cells at specific sites in the body and then checking how this affects the ability of the immune system to protect against TB.

Her team has been able to show that following vaccination against the disease, it is immune cells right at the site of infection in the lungs which play an essential role in controlling the growth of TB bacteria in the early stages of disease.

"Our research suggests that a vaccine needs to drive the protective cells to the lung if we want to achieve good protection against TB," Dr Kirman said today in a statement.

The team has just had its work published in the international European Journal of Immunology.

The research would help a strong international effort being made to develop an effective vaccine for the disease, which kills more people worldwide than any other bacterial disease.

When TB attacks the lungs, it usually leads to a persistent cough, night sweats, and weight loss, is spread though coughs or sneezes, and is often found in crowded and poor households.

TB can take months or even years to show symptoms -- a "new" case of tuberculosis in a year 13 student coughing blood at Palmerston North Boys' High School in June was apparently linked to a major outbreak of the disease which hit the school in 2006, when 250 of the 1800 students and staff at the college were infected.

Dr Kirman said vaccines had only limited reliability, and that drug-resistant strains of the disease were spreading internationally, so there was an increasing need for more effective vaccines.

"Our struggle to develop a more effective vaccine has stemmed in part from a poor understanding of the immune mechanisms that orchestrate protection against TB," she said.

"If we can identify the critical players, and the factors that contribute to their protective nature, then we are far better placed to develop a better TB vaccine."

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