Novel Approach to TB Treatment
XILIN ZHAO, PhD, has developed a novel technology that addresses the need for an effective antituberculosis therapy to rapidly kill the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB), including multi-drug resistant mutants. The significance of this innovation is underscored by the magnitude of TB’s worldwide threat. The CDC estimates that one third of the world’s population is infected with the disease, the leading killer of those infected with HIV. Last year alone there were nearly a million and a half TB-related deaths.
“Effective treatment regimens exist,” Zhao explains, “but they often need to be rigidly implemented for six to nine months with multiple drugs. That often leads to serious patient non-compliance and the development of drug resistance.” He is concerned that the increasing prevalence of multi-drug resistance and the emergence of extensive-drug resistant tuberculosis may soon make all currently available treatments less and less effective.
Zhao has been studying the possibility of rapid eradication of the tubercle bacillus that causes TB by exposing the bacillus to a variety of gases. His lab discovered that passage of hydrogen or an anaerobic gas mixture that contains hydrogen through a culture of tubercle bacilli can rapidly and extensively kill them. If validated in further studies and clinical trials, his unconventional approach has the potential to cure tuberculosis, or at least convert it from a contagious to non-contagious state, in hours, if not minutes, rather than the months required by traditional treatment.
“My team recently showed that hydrogen and oxygen gas mixtures that can be safely inhaled by humans also effectively kill M. tuberculosis,” Zhao reports. This discovery drastically increases the robustness of the gas-based technology and has the potential to revolutionize tuberculosis therapy.
His ground-breaking research earned Zhao a prestigious 2010 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. “From the perspective of bench to bedside research, this invention is very exciting,” commented Vince Smeraglia, Esq, director of the UMDNJ Office of Technology Transfer and Business Development. He added, “The level of outside interest in this approach has been both overwhelming and well-deserved.” UMDNJ is patenting this method of treating TB and other pulmonary infections as well as all gas formulations. Zhao is currently in talks with multiple potential funding groups, companies, and consultants in order to further develop this work and initiate clinical trials.
He is also exploring the option of starting a New Jersey based spin-off company to develop and market products that are tailored to different types of TB patients, for example those without access to modern hospitals. These include breathable gas mixtures, special inhalators allowing alternative breathing of oxygen and the treatment gas, hyperbaric chambers suitable for hydrogen-based TB therapy, and intubation kits suitable for treating one lung with treatment gas while maintaining normal oxygen intake by the other lung.
The possibilities and potential are enormous.