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Vitamin C May Be Able to Destroy Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Bacteria

Update Date: May 21, 2013 02:17 PM EDT
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Researchers have apparently discovered an unlikely ally in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis: Vitamin C.

According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is the second-leading cause of death from an infectious disease, after HIV/AIDS in the world. In 2011, 8.7 million people became ill from tuberculosis, while 1.4 million people died from the disease. Since tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium, mycobacterium tuberculosis, treatment is difficult because it can take months. Making treatment even more difficult is the rise in drug-resistant tuberculosis. So far, 650,000 people have multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, while 9 percent of people have extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis.

The breakthrough came from researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. The researchers were looking into how tuberculosis bacteria became resistant to isoniazid, a tuberculosis drug that is typically used at the front lines of the illness, in the laboratory.

"We hypothesized that TB bacteria that can't make mycothiol might contain more cysteine, an amino acid," Dr. William Jacobs, one of the study authors, said in a statement. "So, we predicted that if we added isoniazid and cysteine to isoniazid-sensitive M. tuberculosis in culture, the bacteria would develop resistance. Instead, we ended up killing off the culture- something totally unexpected."

Believing that cysteine worked by triggering the production of free radicals, substances that damage DNA, the researchers tried another approach to recreate the effects.

"To test this hypothesis, we repeated the experiment using isoniazid and a different reducing agent- vitamin C," said Dr. Jacobs. "The combination of isoniazid and vitamin C sterilized the M. tuberculosis culture. We were then amazed to discover that vitamin C by itself not only sterilized the drug-susceptible TB, but also sterilized MDR-TB and XDR-TB strains."

Researchers are not sure whether vitamin C will work in humans, but they are hopeful. It is helpful that the vitamin is widely available, inexpensive and extremely safe. Researchers hope that vitamin C can be administered to aid medication against tuberculosis.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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