The term “multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis” (MDR TB) is a term that I’ve become rather familiar with while studying here at Franciscan. MDR TB is a type of tuberculosis that doesn’t respond to the major TB-killing drugs we have today. What’s the bigger picture, though?
• For people who have MDR TB, 81% do not get effective treatment. Of the 19% that do, only half are cured.
• The treatments we do have to treat MDR TB are few in number, years long, are sometimes painful injections, and typically cost $4,000 by the end of treatment. To put this in perspective, some of the people who need these drugs survive on less than a dollar per day.
• The treatments we do have to treat MDR TB have horrid side effects: deafness, psychosis, hallucinations, extreme fatigue, and more. Often the side effects that the medications we currently have for MDR TB bring about are worse than having TB itself.
• Right now, on average, a person who is suffering with MDR TB takes about 20 pills per day. Add those up over the course of two years and that’s 14,600 pills. Stack those pills up and you’ve got the height of the Golden Gate Bridge.
• It is impossible to know how many people are infected with MDR TB, but the World Heath Organization (WHO) states that in 2012 alone, 8.6 million people were infected with it and 1.3 million died.
Franciscan University has provided me with an opportunity to help make an impact. With an impressive set of collaborations through the Franciscan Institute for World Health (FIWH), I am taking part in a project that aims to help alleviate the suffering of countless people across the globe. One such collaboration sees us here at Franciscan working with a pharmaceutical company to synthesize small organic molecules that exhibit exciting activity in killing tuberculosis.
It’s really an amazing opportunity for an undergrad, and I sometimes get asked how I as an undergraduate student could be part of this? The fact is, the pharmaceutical companies who produce these sorts of medications —like the one we’re collaborating with—did not have the manpower to do the research necessary to produce a medication for people who simply could not pay for it. That doesn’t mean the company didn’t want to produce the medication, but in order to stay in business they have to recoup “research and development” costs on the medications they produce. That’s where our collaboration comes in: Franciscan University entered into these collaborations through the Franciscan Institute for World Health to both give us, the undergraduate students, invaluable experience, and to assist these pharmaceutical companies make the impact they would like to have without incurring massive R&D expenses. They make their resources available to us and we provide manpower to do the basic medicinal chemistry that forms the foundation of the research. It’s a win-win, and the biggest winners, should our research result in the hoped (and prayed)-for treatment, will be those countless numbers of people afflicted with these diseases like MDR TB.
We have high hopes that one day, working together, we will make an impact in the fight against MDR TB. Our work matters, and our work is needed. We look to Pope Francis as we strive to have every hour spent with this project be for the poor.