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Bone marrow stem cells could defeat drug-resistant tuberculosis

Last Update 06/04/2021

People with drug-resistant forms of TB could in future be treated by bone marrow stem cells.


People with multi drug-resistant (MDR) or extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB could in future be treated using stem cells taken from their own bone marrow, according to the results of an early-stage trial of the technique.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that more than half of 30 drug-resistant TB patients treated with a transfusion of their own bone marrow stem cells were cured of the disease after six months.

Bone-marrow stem cells are known to move to areas of lung injury and inflammation and repair damaged tissue. Since they also modify the body’s immune response and could boost the clearance of TB bacteria, researchers wanted to test them in patients with the disease.

In an initial study, 30 patients with either MDR or XDR TB aged between 21 and 65 who were receiving standard TB antibiotic treatment were also given an infusion of around 10 million of their own stem cells.

During six months of follow-up, the researchers found that the infusion treatment was generally safe and well tolerated, with no serious side effects recorded.

Although the study was a phase 1 trial primarily designed only to test a treatment’s safety. Further analyses of the results also showed that 16 patients treated with stem cells were cured at 18 months compared with only five of the 30 TB patients not treated with stem cells.

The researchers stressed that further trials with more patients and longer follow-up were needed to better establish how safe and effective the stem cell treatment was.

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