New culture TB bacteria may allow more extensive disease research

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have developed a new way to culture tuberculosis bacteria that might lead to new treatments and insights through more extensive research.

While the tuberculosis bacterium has been cultured before, it has been difficult to culture the bacteria in the organized, multicellular structures known as biofilms, which protect the bacteria from antibiotics and environmental stresses. By culturing the bacteria, the lab may be able to determine why the bacteria is so stress tolerant.

"This is a significant step forward in TB research," Anil Ojha, the paper's author, said. "Because it shows in a very reproducible way how to culture biofilms."

A biofilm of tuberculosis can tolerate more than 50 times the minimal therapeutic dose of drugs that fight tuberculosis.

"M. Tuberculosis is difficult to treat," Ojha said. "It takes six to nine months of chemotherapy and after two months, most patients convert to culture-negative and smear-negative, though there is still bacteria there, and if you end treatment, the patient will have a relapse."

The lab will next determine whether tuberculosis forms biofilms within its hosts and plans to better understand the factors involved genetically in biofilm formation. If tuberculosis does form biofilms, understanding the genetics behind the formation might lead to more effective TB treatments. The article will be published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which publishes all its content in text and video.

"Words are words and it's very easy to miss out some details that you get from the visual," Ojha said. "This way, the procedure is visual."