Atlantic Ocean could hold key to fighting tuberculosis

Deep in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, there is a lifesaving mission underway.  University of Central Florida researchers are looking for faster and better ways to treat potentially deadly tuberculosis.

"The background of this project is the effort to discover new drugs, antibiotics to treat tuberculosis, which most people in this country aren't aware is actually the number-one cause of infectious-related disease deaths in the world," explained UCF assistant professor Dr. Kyle Rohde.

He is collaborating with Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute to go below the surface to find a treatment.

"By diving into the ocean and using the diversity from nature, there was good reason to believe that that would provide us some very unique chemicals that might kill tuberculosis," Rohde said.

One specific target is sea sponges.

"What we do is put the drug [and] the samples of the marine organisms on the bacterial culture, and if the light signal goes away, then we know that sample works and there's something in there that can kill the bacteria," UCF graduate student Caroline Felix explained.

Dr. Rohde says the bacteria that causes tuberculosis can be difficult to kill. In fact, most people don't even know they're infected.  That’s because healthy immune systems wall off the bugs, keeping them away from the rest of the body, making them harder to treat.

"So the idea is if we can find new drugs that can take out these dormant bacteria, then we think that would be a good starting point for a drug that is more likely to kill these dormant bacteria," Dr. Rohde continued.

If you can kill them when they are dormant, they cannot re-emerge when the immune system weakens.