CSU labs continue to research TB after 25 years at forefront

Tuberculosis research continues unabated at Colorado State University's Mycobacteria Research Laboratories, one of the United States' premier TB research institutes.

In the early 1900s, people suffering from TB often went to Colorado looking for relief from the infection. In the last 20 years, it has become a home for TB researchers seeking a cure for the illness. The MRL, part of Colorado State University, has several state-of-the-art facilities in the state.

As HIV spreads around the world, TB rates have increased along with it. In addition, rising numbers of multidrug-resistant TB cases are being reported. TB is caused by bacteria that are generally associated with the lungs, but can attack other parts of the body as well. Estimates are that more than one-third of the world's population has been exposed to TB.

Dr. Patrick Brennan laid the groundwork for the MRL nearly 25 years ago as a facility to study TB and leprosy. Today, the MRL has a staff of 168 and primarily researches treatments for TB. Brennan built the facility by consistently seeking the best researchers in the field.

In the mid-1980's, the AIDS epidemic created a troubling resurgence in TB cases. For years, there was little funding for new TB research, but the situation changed dramatically. CSU's labs were in a good position to build on recent developments.

"Those were interesting times," Dr. Ian Orme said. "We recruited some people, but others just came out of the woodwork to come here. Before we knew it, there were 100 people working here."

Over the years, the NIH and, more recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, donated nearly $100 million towards MRL's research, which included testing bedaquiline, the first new TB drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in nearly 40 years.

"The action by the FDA follows the results of new clinical trials of bedaquiline that have recently shown that the drug significantly reduces the duration of treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in patients, thus confirming the results of our studies performed at CSU," Orme said.