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Leprosy research breakthrough

Friday August 25th, 2017

British and US researchers have made a breakthrough in the study of leprosy - explaining for the first time how the disease causes its damage, it was announced last night.

The research shows that the Mycobacterium leprae disrupts the immune system, leading it to destroy the myelin sheath protecting the nervous system.

The study, based on research on zebrafish, is reported in <i>Cell</i> by researchers from Cambridge University, UK, and in the USA, Harvard, UCLA and the University of Washington.

The researchers found that macrophages in the immune system consumed the bacteria but sometimes failed to destroy them.

This led the macrophages settling on the nerve fibre and destroying the myelin sheath, rather than repairing damage.

Researcher Professor Lalita Ramakrishnan, from Cambridge, UK, said: “The leprosy bacteria are, essentially, hijacking an important repair mechanism and causing it to go awry.

“It then starts spewing out toxic chemicals. Not only does it stop repairing damage, but it creates more damage itself.”

The researchers are unsure whether their findings can be used to improve treatments.

Professor Ramakrishnan said: “At the moment, leprosy can be treated by a combination of drugs. While these succeed in killing the bacteria, once the nerve damage has been done, it is currently irreversible. We would like to understand how to change that.

"In other words, are we able to prevent damage to nerve cells in the first place and can we additionally focus on repairing damaged nerve cells?”

Madigan, CA et al. A Macrophage Response To Mycobacterium leprae Phenolic Glycolipid Initiates Nerve Damage In Leprosy. Cell 24 Aug 2017; doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.07.030

Tags: Dermatology | North America | UK News | World Health

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1At 12/09/2017 05:50am Aparna srikantam wrote

Brilliant finding! indeed a break through in understanding how Mycobacterium leprae hijacks the human immune system. I am hopeful this finding shows light on many unsolved puzzles in controlling/preventing leprosy related clinical complications

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