NEW YORK: Researchers have found that centuries-old herbal medicine, discovered by Chinese scientists to treat malaria, can aid in tuberculosis (TB) treatment and even slow drug resistance.
One-third of the world's population is infected with TB, which killed 1.8 million people in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) -- the TB-causing bacteria -- needs oxygen to thrive in the body and the immune system starves this bacterium of oxygen to control the infection.
The study found that artemisinin -- the ancient remedy -- stopped the ability Mtb to become dormant -- a stage of the disease that often makes the use of antibiotics ineffective.
'When TB bacteria are dormant, they become highly tolerant to antibiotics. Blocking dormancy makes the TB bacteria more sensitive to these drugs and could shorten treatment times,' said Robert Abramovitch, Assistant Professor at Michigan State University in the US.
Artemisinin attacks a molecule called heme, which is found in the Mtb oxygen sensor.
By disrupting this sensor and essentially turning it off, the medicine stopped the disease's ability to sense how much oxygen it was getting, the researchers said.
'When the Mtb is starved of oxygen, it goes into a dormant state, which protects it from the stress of low-oxygen environments. If Mtb can't sense low oxygen, then it can't become dormant and will die,' Abramovitch said.
TB takes up to six months to treat and is one of the main reasons the disease is so difficult to control, the researchers said.
They also said that the finding could be key to shortening the course of therapy because it can clear out the dormant, hard-to-kill bacteria.
The paper was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.