Tumor-Fighting Drugs Take on Tuberculosis

Dr. Daniel Kalman, faculty member in IMP and MMG, has been working with a drug used for chronic myelogenous leukemia, called imatinib, which is marketed as Gleevec. His lab found that imatinib blocks a human enzyme that tuberculosis bacilli hijack to prevent macrophages from digesting them. As it turns out, a lot of pathogens use this same enzyme, called ABL; Kalman says imatinib has varying degrees of success treating cells infected with E. coli, Ebola, pox viruses, and malaria. In a 2011 study, his group showed that the drug helped clear tuberculosis from the lungs and spleens of infected mice even when given without antibiotics.

Kalman is also exploring a potentially useful side effect of imatinib, which causes the bone marrow of treated mice to make extra immune cells that make their way to the lungs and help fight infection. Kalman says this “emergency response” may normally be suppressed by tuberculosis, and in this way, imatinib helps the immune system get back on its feet.

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