If you or someone you know is battling with HIV, the threat of tuberculosis (TB) is not new. It’s a cruel reality: many living with HIV also grapple with TB, which often proves fatal. But what if there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon? Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine might just have found a promising lead.
A Trusty Vaccine’s New Potential
The Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine has been our go-to defense against TB for the past century. Given mostly to infants and children, this vaccine uses a live but weakened form of M. bovis bacteria. While it’s a common vaccine, its defense against lung TB infections has room for improvement. But here’s where things get interesting.
“We’re hopeful that our study is a big step towards better health for so many.”Dr. Charles Scanga
Trials So Far
A 2020 study made an intriguing discovery: when the BCG vaccine was given directly into a monkey’s vein, it seemed to work wonders against TB. So, the team at Pittsburgh decided to think a step further. They tested the vaccine on monkeys with SIV—a version of HIV.
However, there was a catch. Using the BCG vaccine on those with weakened immune systems (like HIV) is risky because it contains live bacteria. So, the researchers tried a fresh approach: after the vaccine, they introduced antibiotics to clear out any lingering bacteria, aiming to give the immune system a TB-fighting boost without any lingering threats.
The result? Quite promising.
75% of the SIV-infected monkeys managed to fend off TB after this unique vaccination method. Moreover, the vaccine provided full protection to the monkeys that didn’t have an SIV infection.
Check out this exciting new work from Erika Larson and co-authors out now showing that intravenous vaccination with BCG can protect SIV-infected macaques 🦠💉@PittHealthSci @C_Scanga, @erica_larson94 @PittCVR https://t.co/916koWNogw— Nature Microbiology (@NatureMicrobiol) October 10, 2023
Challenges and Next Steps
Achievements in the lab are just the beginning; real-world application is the true test. Dr. Charles Scanga notes the difficulty of asking people to come back for antibiotics a few weeks after vaccination. This would be especially hard in regions where health systems are already stretched thin.
However, this isn’t the end of the road. The team’s next goal? Seeing if the BCG vaccine can be safely given without the follow-up antibiotics. They’re also exploring new versions of the vaccine that might be safer and just as effective.
With TB taking a heavy toll, especially on those with HIV, it’s about time we found new ways to fight back. This research is more than just numbers; it’s about potential real-world impact, hope, and the possibility of saving lives.