Studying drug-resistant Tb

A high-powered collaboration between the University of Otago and the oldest medical university in Burma is likely to shed new light on the genetics of tuberculosis drug resistance.

An international partnership formed by Otago University and the Burmese institution, known as the ''University of Medicine (1)'', in 2012 has since developed in several directions, including Tb-related research.

The 2012 agreement was the first of its kind between a New Zealand university and a Burmese institution to collaborate on research, training and capacity building, including in infectious diseases and medical microbiology.

This month, Dr Thanda Tun, a PhD student from the Burmese institution, arrived in Dunedin to work with Otago microbiologist Prof Greg Cook and Otago postdoctoral fellow Dr Htin Lin Aung, studying multiple-drug resistant tuberculosis from Burma and elsewhere.

The three researchers will also work in partnership with Prof John Crump and Prof Philip Hill, of the Otago University's Centre for International Health.

Prof Cook said the recent establishment of a high biosafety level laboratory at the Otago microbiology and immunology department allowed researchers to work safely with organisms such those causing tuberculosis.

Otago researchers could also undertake full-genome sequencing, enabling them to ''do work that was not possible a few years ago'', he added.

Dr Thanda Tun said tuberculosis was ''one of the world's most pressing infectious diseases problems'', causing about 1.2 million deaths worldwide in 2010.

It was of ''great concern'' that the ability of national tuberculosis control programmes in countries such as Burma to treat and control the disease was threatened by the emergence of resistance to drugs, she said.

The Otago research could lead to improvements in diagnostic tests for drug-resistant tuberculosis.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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