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NIAID Collaboration With South Korea Seeks To Advance TB Care

A researcher at the International Tuberculosis Research Center in Masan, South Korea.
A researcher at the International Tuberculosis Research Center in Masan, South Korea, processes patient samples in a biological safety cabinet.
Credit: NIAID

In 2003, NIAID scientists and clinical researchers at South Korea’s National Masan Tuberculosis Hospital joined forces to develop potential new drug regimens for effective treatment of TB. The hospital is the national referral center for TB treatment failures in South Korea and has one of the largest populations of in-patient multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB cases in the world.

One of the first tasks of the NIAID-South Korean team was to oversee construction of a new biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) facility where research on MDR TB could be performed safely. The BSL-3 lab—opened at a newly founded institute, called the International Tuberculosis Research Center, adjacent to the hospital—supports clinical studies to test new drugs for both latent and MDR TB. All funding for the BSL-3 lab’s construction was provided by the South Korean Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Family Affairs.

TB medication.
TB patients must adhere to a complex treatment regimen over a six- to nine-month period. The NIAID-South Korean collaboration aims to reduce the complexity and duration of TB therapy.
Credit: NIAID

U.S. and South Korean researchers have conducted several clinical research studies and currently have more than 600 patients participating in trials. For example, two studies are evaluating existing drugs (metronidazole and linezolid) in patients with highly drug-resistant TB using imaging technologies (high-resolution PET/CT) that have never before been applied to TB patients. In addition, researchers are collecting information about rates and causes of MDR and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB in two groups of patients: those who are having an initial episode of active TB and those who have recurrent TB. Investigators also are studying bacterial and human genomes to further understand the relationship between expression of specific bacterial and human genes and acquisition and development of XDR TB infection.

Recently, NIAID scientists led by Clifton E. Barry III, Ph.D., have been working with colleagues at the hospital and with the manufacturers of the drugs meropenem and clavulanate to evaluate a combination of these drugs in people who have MDR or XDR TB. Laboratory tests have shown the drug combination to be effective in killing drug-susceptible strains of TB bacteria as well as XDR TB.

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Last Updated November 08, 2009