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Tuberculosis May Use Bone Stem Cells to Evade Immune System

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Tuberculosis bacteria may use stem cells normally found in the bone marrow to hide in the lungs, researchers said as they pinpointed a possible new target for treatments to fight the infectious disease.

TB recruits mesenchymal stem cells to the lungs, where they help suppress the immune system that fights disease, the scientists said in a study released today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The stem cells produce nitric oxide, a chemical that reduces the type of white blood cells called T-cells, the researchers wrote.

About one third of the world’s people are infected with the bacteria that can cause TB, according to the World Health Organization, based in Geneva, said on its website. The disease is difficult to treat, especially with the emergence of drug-resistant strains. The study suggests that the mesenchymal stem cells are potentially a target for new treatments for TB, a malady that the scientists said kills 1.7 million people last year.

The findings “reveal a key role of mesenchymal stem cells” in TB’s ability to evade the immune system, and “identify these cells as unique targets for therapeutic intervention in tuberculosis,” wrote the researchers, led by Gobardhan Das, a New Delhi-based scientist for the International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology, an organization with headquarters in Trieste, Italy.

Mesenchymal stem cells can generate bone, cartilage, fat and connective tissue, according to the website of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda, Maryland.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at elopatto@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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