A new study shows that there is an increase in levels of an enzyme called MMP-1 in patients with tuberculosis (TB). This enzyme is responsible for destroying lung tissue in patients with TB. The findings of the study have been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

For the study, the researchers infected human immune cells with TB in the lab. Since the mouse version of MMP-1 is not expressed in the lung, the researchers developed a transgenic mouse with human MMP-1 to investigate whether the enzyme causes lung damage in TB. When these mice were infected with TB, MMP-1 levels increased significantly and the infection led to lung damage similar to that seen in humans with TB.

The scientists also found that a drug proven to be safe in humans was effective at suppressing MMP-1 activity driven by TB infection in human cells. The findings suggest that similar drugs might prevent lung damage in TB patients and help limit the spread of the disease.

“Standard TB treatment has remained unchanged for 35 years, and no current treatments prevent the lung destruction that TB causes. These findings suggest that drugs available now might be able to reduce deaths from TB,” said Paul Elkington, one of the study’s authors, from the infectious diseases and immunity department at Imperial College London.

Many MMP inhibitor drugs were developed in the 1990s because they showed initial promise for treating cancer. The researchers now plan to carry out further studies to see whether these drugs can prevent lung destruction in patients with TB.

Source: Imperial College London