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Tuberculosis is the world’s longest-running pandemic and kills about two million world citizens a year. While often it is the immune response to bacterial infection that’s so dangerous, tuberculosis adds a complexity that is especially challenging. Anna Coussens zeros in on several of these complexities in her research.

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Listen in and learn

  • How the immune response differs dramatically among those infected and how Dr. Coussens is trying to understand why,
  • What is the disease progression and ways the immune response harms the infected individual, and
  • How she is working on “host-directed therapy” as a way to combat the complexities of the disease.

Anna Coussens is a Laboratory Head in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immune Defense with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. Her work in infectious diseases microbiology focuses specifically on tuberculosis as an immunologist. Because TB is a dominant problem in lower socioeconomic countries, it is often forgotten about in other areas.

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This has pushed treatment down on the list of common infectious diseases, but Dr. Coussens is working to change this. 

She helps listeners understand why Mycobacterium tuberculosis is still the cause of so much illness, explaining the interplay of immunity and infection. It can trick T-cells into not recognizing its presence in infected cells through an extra-cellular vesicle sleight of hand. Furthermore, it has a very slow growth pattern, which makes it both hard to treat and hard to study in lab conditions.

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Many infected persons can exhibit a strong response and inflammation for years before doctors can detect bacteria in their sputum.

Dr. Coussens is trying to understand why different cells can react in such varied ways to the bacteria. Her research aims to find a way to treat the individual and the immune dysfunction of that individual through “host-directed therapy.” She hopes to help resolve inflammation that might lead to better outcomes for treatment. People who have had TB are actually at a high risk for getting it again, which perpetuates the disease in high-burden areas.

Listen as one researcher describes her hard work to bring better treatment to these communities.

For more about her work, follow her on Twitter as @AnnaCoussens and see her web page at WEHI.

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