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Centenary Institute - Medical Research
Centenary Institute - Medical Research

Pathway to eliminating antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis in the Pacific

Australian researchers, including from the Centenary Institute have been awarded funding for a major project that aims to eliminate both active and latent tuberculosis (TB) found on Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean. The project will also support multidrug-resistant TB control education and management through the Pacific region.

Led by Professor Barend Marais of the University of Sydney, Professor Warwick Britton AO, Head of the Centenary Institute’s Tuberculosis Research Program will be a Chief Investigator (CIB) on the project with colleagues from the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Tuberculosis Control.

“A TB hotspot, Kiribati has extremely high rates of tuberculosis. The capital Tarawa, one of the most densely populated areas in the Pacific, has a TB incidence rate among the highest in the world,” said Professor Britton.

“Our project will ensure that every person over the age of 2 will be screened for TB disease or infection in Tarawa with appropriate treatment strategies then implemented. Our integrated project will also provide a pathway towards drug resistant TB prevention and TB elimination  more broadly within the Pacific, through a program of training and mentoring.”

“Overall, this program will be a catalyst in regional TB elimination efforts, helping save lives and overcoming a disease which has devastating impact on communities,” he said.

The Federal Government’s announcement regarding the project funding can be accessed online.

TB is a leading cause of death globally responsible for approximately 1.5 million deaths annually.

Read more about Professor Britton and his research here.

Image Credit: Vladimir Lysenko. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39278217

Biomarker signature found for TB infection

A group of leading Australian researchers have uncovered a unique blood-based biomarker signature in individuals infected by tuberculosis (TB).

The presence of the biomarker signature, found through a simple blood test, allows individuals with infectious TB–including those with non-symptomatic early-stage disease–to be easily identified and treated.

The finding, reported in the Journal of Infection, could be key in supporting health efforts to control and eventually eliminate the TB epidemic which is responsible for approximately 1.5 million deaths each year globally.

“A major issue in controlling the spread of tuberculosis is the difficulty of detecting the disease quickly and effectively, particularly in developing countries and in remote areas where technology and testing facilities may be limited,” says lead author of the study, Dr Jennifer Ho from the Centenary Institute and the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research

“Sputum smear microscopy is the test used to diagnose TB in the majority of endemic settings but it is unable to pick-up TB in its early stages which prevents timely diagnosis and treatment.”

“Also problematical are individuals with latent TB who possess no physical sickness or symptoms,” she says. “Unaware they are infected, these individuals can become TB spreaders if their disease progresses at some point to an active state.”

Dr Ho notes that it is estimated that over 3.3 million cases of active TB are undetected annually, contributing to the uncontrolled spread of TB.

“Our biomarker discovery could be used as the basis for a highly effective and simple diagnostic blood test to help detect these prevalent cases of TB in the community,” she says.

Professor Warwick Britton, Head of the Centenary Institute’s Tuberculosis Research

Program and senior researcher on the project says that active TB case finding, including systematic screening of high risk groups, will be required to dramatically reduce TB incidence worldwide.

“Early case detection and appropriate treatment is absolutely critical to getting on top of this highly infectious disease,” he says. “Our research offers up an exciting new approach to help realise the ambition of global TB elimination.”

The research was a collaboration between scientists at the Centenary Institute, the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney and University of Technology Sydney.

Read the full media release here.

Australian trial halves TB

Annual community-wide screening for tuberculosis almost halves the number of cases of the deadly disease, a four-year study by Australian and Vietnamese researchers has found.

Globally significant findings from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, in close collaboration with the Centenary Institute in Sydney and the National Lung Hospital in Vietnam, shows a pathway towards the eventual elimination of this global scourge.

The study, involving 100,000 people in Vietnam, found community-wide active case finding was 44 per cent more effective than standard passive case detection alone in reducing the prevalence of tuberculosis in the general population. Importantly, the active case finding intervention halved rates of TB infection among school-aged children.

“Our findings show that, with existing tests and treatments used in innovative ways, we can achieve the sort of impact on TB that makes it possible to consider the elimination of this dreadful disease,” says study leader, Woolcock epidemiologist and respiratory physician Professor Guy Marks. “Community-wide screening can interrupt the cycle of active disease and infection that perpetuates the deadly tuberculosis epidemic.“

Professor Warwick Britton, Centenary Institute’s Head of Tuberculosis Research Program said, “Tuberculosis takes a huge toll in human suffering and economic impact on communities worldwide. The important findings from this study demonstrate the effectiveness of a new approach to tuberculosis control. It highlights the value of collaboration between our Vietnamese colleagues and researchers in the Woolcock and Centenary Institutes.”

Read the full media release from the Woolcock Institute here: https://woolcock.org.au/news-4/australian-trial-halves-tb-study

The paper, ‘Community-wide Screening for Tuberculosis in a High-Prevalence Setting’, can be viewed online at the New England Journal of Medicine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1902129

Exciting new vaccine targets killer disease TB

Australian medical researchers from the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney have successfully developed and tested a new type of vaccine targeting tuberculosis (TB), the world’s top infectious disease killer.

Reported in the ‘Journal of Medicinal Chemistry’, the early-stage vaccine was shown to provide substantial protection against TB in a pre-clinical laboratory setting.

“Tuberculosis is a huge world-wide health problem. It’s caused by a bacteria that infects the lungs after it’s inhaled, is contagious and results in approximately 1.6 million deaths per year globally,” said Dr Anneliese Ashhurst, co-lead author of the reported study and affiliated with both the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney.

The research program targeting the deadly disease has currently taken over five years of effort to implement. During that time Dr Ashhurst and a team of scientists have created the advanced synthetic TB vaccine and have now demonstrated its effectiveness using mouse models.

“Two peptides (small proteins) which are normally found in tuberculosis bacteria were synthesized and then bound extremely tightly to an adjuvant (a stimulant) that was able to kick-start the immune response in the lungs,” said Dr Ashhurst.

“We were then able to show that when this vaccine was inhaled into the lungs, it stimulated the type of T cells known to protect against TB. Importantly, we then demonstrated that this type of vaccine could successfully protect against experimental airborne TB infection,” she said.

Professor Warwick Britton, Head of the Centenary Institute Tuberculosis Research Program and co-senior researcher on the project with Professor Richard Payne, School of Chemistry, University of Sydney, emphasized the importance of the work being done.

“There currently exists only one lone vaccine for TB (known as BCG) and this is only effective in reducing the risk of disease for infants,” said Professor Britton.

“It fails to prevent infection or provide long term protection in older individuals and it isn’t considered suitable for use in individuals with an impaired immune system. More effective vaccines are urgently required to save lives,” he said.

Read the full media release here.