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Three-D system to help scientists battle against deadly TB

LONDON, March 9, 2017 (BSS/XINHUA) - A research team in London and
Southampton have developed a new system using 3-D which will help find better treatments for sufferers of tuberculosis (TB), the Medical Research Council(MRC) in Britain announced Wednesday.

The new system will enable researchers to more effectively study human infections in the laboratory. A team of infectious disease researchers, engineers and bioinformaticians from the University of Southampton and University College London came together to better understand the bacteria that cause tuberculosis.

They used a technique known as electrostatic encapsulation to make tiny spheres of collagen, a connecting tissue in the body, within which human cells are infected with TB bacteria to generate conditions that more closely reflect events in patients than similar 2D techniques.

The team developed human lung cells which were then placed in the 3D spheres and infected with TB bacteria, allowing the researchers to further investigate what happens in a human body when the disease develops.

Professor Paul Elkington, who leads the Southampton TB research group, said: "This is a really exciting development for the field of tuberculosis research.

The 3D sphere can be created with a collagen matrix so it is more like a human lung."

"This produces an environment which allows particular antibiotics that are important in treating patients to kill the infection, which they cannot do in other 2D model systems."

"This system will help us speed up the process of finding treatments and vaccines for human tuberculosis, an infection that kills 1.8 million people every year," the professor said.

With a long-term aim of identifying new antibiotic treatments and
vaccines, the 3D spheres are also able to prolong experiments for up to three weeks, more than four times longer than standard 2D model systems.

The research was funded by the Antimicrobial Resistance Cross-Council Initiative which brings together all seven UK Research Councils to develop collaborative approaches across research disciplines.

The next phase of the research will be in collaboration with the African Health Research Institute in Durban where there is a very high incidence of TB.

Elkington added: "We will use our 3D model to integrate engineering and biological approaches with clinical specimens to create an entirely new system of studying infection."

Dr Al Leslie, of the Africa Health Research Institute, said: "There is a huge amount to be gained from infectious disease biologists and engineers working together, as they push each other out of their comfort zones and force a new perspective on the problem being tackled."

He said the work will bring real innovation to TB research programs and speed up the pace of discovery to fight what is a deadly epidemic.