SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korean researchers have developed a new process that can lead to better treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), the country's public health agency said Friday.
The headway made by a team led by Kim Jeong-hyun has been successful in creating large numbers of macrophages from pluripotent stem cells, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
Macrophages are white blood cells that make up a person's immune system, while pluripotent cells have the potential to become any part of the body.
It has been known for some time that multidrug-resistant tuberculosis can get inside macrophages, prevent them from functioning properly and actually use macrophages to move around the body and grow without being attacked.
Virulent strains of TB are highly contagious and pose health risks to people around the world. In South Korea, five deaths were reported for every 100,000 people last year, but there have only been three new drugs found worldwide in the last 50 years.
"Kim and her KCDC team, knowing the characteristics of TB to avoid being attacked by the immune system, devised a screening platform to check infected white blood cells en masse," the disease control center said
It said in the past two years over 3,700 compounds that could be used against TB were tested on artificially infected macrophages, with six candidate materials being shortlisted. Of these, one substance, called 10-DEBC, showed considerable effectiveness in combating TB while not being toxic to the white cell itself or the body as a whole.
KCDC said that it has secured an intellectual property right for the macrophages mass production process under the international patent cooperation treaty, with the research itself being published in the latest online issue of the Stem Cell Report, a sister publication to the internationally renowned journal Cell.
It said further clinical tests are planned for the newly discovered treatment substances, with follow-up research to be carried out in due course.
Multidrug-resistant TB is difficult to treat as it is resistant to at least two powerful anti-TB drugs, according to KCDC. Ordinary TB, which commonly affects the lungs, is curable and preventable.
In 2018, there were an estimated half a million new cases of drug-resistant TB, but only one in three of these people was enrolled in treatment, according to the World Health Organization.
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