UIC OPENS BIOSAFETY LAB TO IMPROVE TUBERCULOSIS TREATMENT
The UIC College of Pharmacy is set to launch a $1.2 million dollar laboratory to discover new drugs to treat tuberculosis and explore novel drug-delivery systems to treat the disease with existing drugs.
The new UIC lab is one of just a handful of biosafety level 3 laboratories in the state. The defining characteristic of this type of lab is that it is housed in a room in which there is negative air pressure, making it virtually impossible for the tuberculosis bacterium to leave the room.
Many people in developed nations are unaware of the degree to which TB remains a major public health threat, said Scott Franzblau, director of the UIC Institute for Tuberculosis Research. It ranks with AIDS and malaria as one of the top infectious disease killers worldwide. Two million people die each year of TB. Eight million people worldwide develop active cases of the deadly disease each year.
Although there is a TB vaccine, it is only partially effective. And even though tuberculosis can be treated effectively, infected persons must take medication daily for six months. This treatment regimen is impractical for the vast majority of TB-infected people in many regions of the world.
The World Health Organization, which once asserted that there was no need to develop new short-course TB treatments, recently reversed its position. Though the incidence of multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis strains has diminished in the United States in the past decade, these strains are increasingly common in developing nations and among prison inmates in Russia.
No new medications have been developed specifically to treat tuberculosis since the late 1960s.
The new UIC tuberculosis lab is located in the UIC College of Pharmacy Institute for Tuberculosis Research. It is funded in part from the proceeds of a TB vaccine that was developed and patented by UIC researchers in the 1940s.
Franzblau joined the UIC College of Pharmacy in 2000 as director of the institute and has played a leading role in the design and construction of the lab, recruitment of top researchers from around the world, and collaborative relationships with biotech companies-including Influx of Chicago and Immtech International of Vernon Hills-pharmaceutical companies and academic chemists.
"Our approach is comprehensive," Franzblau said. "If someone has promising compounds to test, we have the facility to test them. We constantly are looking at new chemicals, either synthetic or natural." The researchers will employ sophisticated methodologies and technologies to test thousands of compounds in short-order.
The institute also will be designing assays to test drugs against TB bacteria under physiological conditions that mimic human TB infection. Many researchers have focused on actively growing TB bacteria, but current research suggests that a relatively dormant subpopulation of TB bacteria may not be killed by existing drugs and that finding new drugs that can kill these bacteria may be the key to shortening TB treatment.
Prior to UIC, Franzblau headed the department of pharmacology research in the Laboratory Research Branch of the National Hansen's Disease Center in Baton Rouge, La. The UIC research team, led by Franzblau, may be the only team of its size that is focusing exclusively on new TB drug development. The majority of treatment and prevention-oriented tuberculosis-research groups have concentrated on vaccine development.
Protective features of the new UIC College of Pharmacy biosafety level 3 lab are:
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