EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The University of Texas at El Paso’s Sangeeta Tiwari, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences, was just awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will help will help improve the efficacy of treatments against tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis (TB), a disease caused by a pathogen known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), one of the world’s most dangerous infectious diseases continues to fight back.

The emergence of drug-resistant strains of Mtb and long, tedious treatment therapies make TB one of the world’s deadliest diseases. In 2019, 1.4 million people died from TB, according to the World Health Organization.

Tiwari will seek to reduce the treatment time for TB by identifying new molecular drug targets of Mtb. Such discoveries could lead to the development of unique therapeutic strategies to fight drug-resistant Mtb, including highly drug-resistant TB (XDR TB).

Researchers say that, due to the slow-growing nature of Mtb, the treatment requires many months to eradicate the active organism. If the patient is noncompliant or has other complications, drug-resistant strains can develop and spread to others. Thus, it is critically important to develop new Mtb drugs that effectively and efficiently kill this organism, said Robert A. Kirken, dean of UTEP’s College of Science.

“Dr. Tiwari’s recent discovery suggests a new molecular pathway to target,” Kirken said. “This is exciting since few new drugs against TB have done so over the past several decades.”

Officials say the NIH grant will enable Tiwari and her team, including undergraduate and graduate students, to develop new ideas and expand on her previous findings.

Tiwari has identified that subpopulations of Mtb — known as “persisters” — are resistant to first-line TB drugs such as isoniazid (INH). Her discovery of a new pathway to attack the disease is the first step in developing drugs that can eradicate drug-resistant MDR TB and shorten treatment therapies.

According to officials, Tiwari’s next phase of research looks to identify novel compounds that can target TB enzymes involved in this new arginine biosynthesis pathway.

“We will be screening for compounds that target enzymes in the arginine biosynthesis pathway of TB bacteria and if we find them, this can lead to shortened TB chemotherapies, result in getting rid of the emergence of the drug-resistant strains of the bacteria and find a treatment for XDR TB…”

Sangeeta Tiwari, Ph.D.

The team also will study additional enzymes in the arginine biosynthesis pathway to increase the drug target space.

For more information on the cutting edge research going on at UTEP’s Biological Science Department, click here.

For local and breaking news, sports, weather alerts, video and more, download the FREE KTSM 9 News App from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.