World Tuberculosis Day falls on 24 March and aims to raise awareness of the disease that affects millions of people worldwide. This seemingly ‘age-old’ illness is prevalent in the developing world and remains a public health concern. It can be complex and difficult to diagnose, however, as a curable disease, research into the mechanisms and susceptibility of TB has never been more important.
In recent times, bovine tuberculosis has been the subject of controversial debates amongst conservationists and policymakers. In Great Britain in particular, the incidence of the disease has increased, bringing new challenges in addressing the problem.
Understanding the biological mechanisms involved in tuberculosis
Open Biology Board Member, Dr Sergey Nejentsev, is based at Cambridge University and his research focuses on susceptibility to TB and mycobacterial infection:
“Some people are known to be more susceptible to TB than others. We are searching for genes in the human genome that carry sequence variants, which are involved in resistance to infection and predispose to infectious diseases. Discovery of such genes can open new biological pathways and suggest new targets for intervention.
A majority of people infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis) control the infection successfully. A minority develops active TB, but the reasons for this remain largely unknown. However, genetic variation in both humans and M. tuberculosis, along with environmental factors, may influence the disease. There is a need to consider pathogen-related factors, host susceptibility genetic factors and their interaction in a patient, affecting course of TB in an individual patient and the outcome. Our group is part of a consortium called TB-EUROGEN that brings together TB clinicians, experts in human genetics and mycobacterial research. We have established the world’s largest collection of DNA samples from 6,000 HIV-negative patients diagnosed with pulmonary TB and 6,000 geographically and ethnically matched healthy controls.”
The control of bovine tuberculosis – Professor Charles Godfray, FRS
The control of bovine TB in the UK is one of the most contentious areas of policy because the main wildlife reservoir is the badger, an iconic part of our countryside. Decisions about bTB control involve science, economics as well as political considerations – how to weigh the interest of different stakeholders. What we tried to do in the “Restatement” project was to set down in as policy neutral terms as possible the natural science evidence base relevant to decision-making in this area. We also provided a consensus opinion about the nature of the evidence – for example whether it was based on controlled experiments, expert opinion etc. We have been very pleased that, as we hoped, groups arguing for very different policies have found it helpful to refer to this common evidence base.
You can read more about Charles’s work in Proceedings B
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