It is estimated around 1.7 million people die annually from Tuberculosis (TB) and the majority of deaths are in infants and children. TB is an infectious disease transmitted from person to person by coughing. The highest numbers of deaths are in the African and South-East Asia regions with the disease killing one person every 17 seconds. Contrary to common belief, TB is not limited to low socio-economic regions and the disease is present in Australia. TB is a world-wide problem and is fueled by commerce and migration. While the first-world healthcare systems can currently manage TB, eradication of the disease in affected patients is not straightforward. The bacteria can lie dormant in people with no symptoms or be latent, hiding inside cells in the lung of past sufferers, to attack and spread again. Additionally, current medicines require lengthy treatment times (>9 months) using high doses of antibiotics taken in tablet form.
What is particularly concerning is that antibiotic resistant strains of TB now exist and are becoming more common. Unless we discover new approaches to targeting and managing TB, the global community could be facing a return of the disease to epidemic proportions as seen at the end of the 18th Century.
We are committed to understanding how TB is transmitted in large populations and how we can improve awareness, stop the spread and develop new treatment options and delivery systems.
The Woolcock has a research centre and office in the Hanoi region of Vietnam. We are coordinating multiple projects across 8 provinces and are conducting community screening of thousands of people to track and manage those infected. These projects will help us understand how TB is transmitted through large communities and which treatment and management options work. This work will help us understand how we can ‘Turn of the Tap’ and eradicate TB.
In Australia, we are working with 9 hospitals, trialing shorter duration antibiotics for the treatment of TB. This study is in more than 200 patients locally, and is part of a global study to reduce treatment times to less than 4 months. Reduced treatment times will result in improved patient use and reduced antibiotic resistance.
We are working on new approaches to treat TB by developing novel inhaled anti-tubercular drugs that work directly in the lung. We are developing micron sized particles, that when inhaled, target the cells where TB hides. We are developing advanced combination therapies that overcome resistance and are testing new disposable devices that cost cents to produce and can be distributed to areas which are ‘TB rich’ with minimal cost.
Visit woolcockvietnam.org for more information.