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Researchers Identify Protein That Helps Prevent Active Tuberculosis In Infected Patients

Update Date: Aug 21, 2014 09:54 AM EDT
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Researchers have identified a protein that appears to play a significant role in protecting patients with Mycobacterium tuberculosis from developing the active form of the disease. Mycobacterium tuberculosis is bacterium that causes tuberculosis. 

Findings of the study could help doctors identify people who are at higher risk of the highly contagious and potentially fatal lung disease. It could also point the way toward new treatment strategies for TB. 

The study also highlights the importance of maintaining sufficient levels of vitamin D to effectively combat the pathogen that causes TB. According to the study, the protective protein, interleukin-32, can only induce the killing of the TB bacterium in the presence of sufficient levels of vitamin D. 

Reports estimate that around one-third of the world's population is infected with tuberculosis. However the disease is latent in 90 to 95 percent of infected people, which means that they experience no symptoms and are not contagious. 

"Until now, there had been no way to predict, based on biological factors, why latently infected individuals do not develop active tuberculosis," said Dennis Montoya, a postdoctoral scholar in the division of dermatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study's lead author, in the press release. "We were surprised to find many differences between people with latent TB and healthy people, suggesting that people with latent TB may have activated immune systems that are protecting them from developing active infection."

The study has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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