Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria
Credit: NIAID

Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculos is bacteria.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious and often severe airborne disease caused by infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) bacteria. TB typically affects the lungs, but it also can affect any other organ of the body. It is usually treated with a regimen of drugs taken for six months to two years depending on whether the infecting organisms are drug resistant.

Why Is the Study of Tuberculosis a Priority for NIAID?

Tuberculosis is one of the major causes of disability and death worldwide. More than 95 percent of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. In 2014, 9.6 million people became ill with TB, and 1.5 million people died from the disease. TB is a leading cause of death for people infected with HIV. In 2015, 1 in 3 HIV deaths was due to TB. Globally in 2014, an estimated 480,000 people developed multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). 

How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?

NIAID supports a comprehensive portfolio of research covering basic, translational and clinical studies to better understand the national history of TB and the development of drug resistance. NIAID also provides resources and animal models to investigators worldwide to facilitate biomedical research and help move drugs, vaccines and diagnostics closer to patients. 

To learn about risk factors for Tuberculosis and current prevention and treatment strategies visit the MedlinePlus tuberculosis site.

Basic Research

NIAID supports basic research on Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the causative agent of TB, and seeks to understand how the bacterium causes disease in humans. The Institute is accelerating efforts to identify new candidate drugs, vaccines and biomarkers and technologies with diagnostic potential to improve TB diagnosis, treatment, and prevention strategies. NIAID also supports research to map the diversity of genetic drug resistant Mtb and assess what factors influence the occurrence, distribution, and transmission of drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains of Mtb.

Vaccine Development

Scientists are studying how the TB bacterium evades the immune system to infect people, how it can lay dormant for years and become active at a later stage in life, and why people can have TB disease more than once in their lives. This knowledge will help to find ways to develop vaccines that are able to prime the immune system to recognize Mtb, prevent it from infecting people, or prevent latent infections from progressing to active TB disease.


NIAID supports the development of new and improved diagnostic tools to more accurately diagnose Mtb infection early TB disease, help optimize therapy by identifying drug-resistant strains, and track the spread of TB in a community. The Institute also encourages researchers to develop tools and identify biomarkers that allow clinicians to rapidly assess how people respond to therapy and to assist in conducting drug and vaccine clinical trials.


The emergence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB and, more recently, extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB has intensified the need for new TB drugs. Helping discover and develop those drugs is a top NIAID priority. The Institute supports research to elucidate the mechanisms of drug resistance, identify new TB drug targets and candidate drugs, and evaluate novel TB drugs and optimal drug combinations in preclinical and clinical studies.

Content last reviewed on October 16, 2017