Expert’s Corner: Sassetti on TB’s appetite for cholesterol

Christopher M. Sassetti, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology & physiological systems, is uncovering the fundamental physiology of mycobacterium tuberculosis, one of the most devastating diseases in the world, in order to identify new biological targets for potential anti-microbial compounds.

Commonly referred to as TB, tuberculosis infects roughly one third of the world’s population and as many as two million people die from the respiratory infection each year. Treatment for TB is complicated by the six-to-nine months of daily antibiotics necessary to kill the bacteria, a course of treatment that is difficult to deliver in many parts of the world.

In order to more efficiently attack TB, Sassetti is investigating how the bacterium adapts to its host and what functions are important for its survival. In particular, Sassetti is researching how TB uses cholesterol as a source of nutrient while inside cells. “We’ve discovered that TB has the unusual ability to degrade cholesterol, an ability we don’t have, and use it as an energy source,” said Sassetti. “In defining that ability, we believe we’ve identified a number of new and interesting targets for anti-microbial compounds.”

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