VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - Valdosta State University (VSU) researchers have made a discovery that could impact millions of lives around the globe.
The students have developed a new way to treat tuberculosis. Currently, the drug is in a clinical trial in India, where the disease affects 40 percent of the population.
Although tuberculosis isn't common in the U.S., the World Health Organization estimates one third of the global population is impacted. Many of those with the disease live in countries that can't afford treatments.
Experts say it can cost $250,000 to treat some forms of TB. The researchers said they hope their breakthrough can change that.
“This is a world wide, humongous problem,” senior chemistry student Olivia Moss said. “To possibly have an effect on that, no matter how small it is, for me or the community, it’s absolutely insane.”
Dr. Thomas Manning, the professor leading the research at VSU, said their research has gotten praise from experts on the disease.
"That gets us kind of excited," Manning said. "That people who deal with this problem every day are saying 'You might have something.'"
Manning and his students have found a way to give new life to an old antibiotic. Currently, tuberculosis is becoming increasingly difficult and more expensive to treat.
"The biggest problem is resistance to antibiotics, and those antibiotics are not working anymore," Manning said.
The researchers took an existing antibiotic and changed its chemistry, so the disease is no longer resistant to it.
Because the drug is already being produced, it cut the cost from thousands to just a few dollars.
"We're not trying to make this some crazy, incredibly expensive thing," Moss said. "We want this to be accessible if it works."
The students have also developed a new way to administer the drug. It's a small implant that gradually dissolves, releasing the right dosage at the right time. This reduces daily pills and doctor visits to just once a month for patients.
From inside the lab of a small university with limited resources, the group fought for those who need it most.
“If this truly works, it could revolutionize tuberculosis treatment,” Moss said. “And that’s insane to think that we could do that here at VSU.”
This sort of camouflaged-antibiotic idea has never been done before in tuberculosis treatment. The school said it was first accepted by the federal government about six years ago.
They have had a patent under review for most of that time. Just a few weeks ago, the patent was approved.
VSU said the treatment is still in the early stages of clinical trials, but has great support from the Indian government. The prime minister has made it a priority to eliminate tuberculosis from the country by 2025.