Welch Foundation grant supports UTA research on drug-resistant tuberculosis

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With a $300,000 grant, the Welch Foundation is supporting research at the University of Texas at Arlington into why some forms of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the bacteria that cause the lung disease tuberculosis (TB), do not respond to treatment.

Since its founding in 1954, the Houston-based Welch Foundation has contributed to the advancement of chemistry in Texas through research grants, departmental programs, endowed chairs and other special projects.

As one of the nation’s largest private funding sources for chemical research, it is our job to ensure that we support the field in ways that advance the field as life changes. TB has a huge impact on society, and how I see Dr. Kayunta Johnson-Winters’ research can help advance our understanding of this devastating disease.”

Adam Kuspa, president of the Welch Foundation

Johnson-Winters, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UTA, is leading the project.

“I am honored that the Welch Foundation sees the value in supporting our research. TB is a global epidemic that kills approximately 1.5 million people each year,” Johnson-Winters said. “An estimated 1.8 billion people–about a quarter of the world’s population–are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. About 10% of carriers of the bacterium will become ill, enabling them to infect others.”

Since TB is caused by a bacteria, it can be treated with antibiotics. Infected people must take a combination of antibiotics diligently for six to 12 months to stop the infection. Patients who stop taking their medication in the middle of treatment are more likely to have the infection return, only this time, the infection doesn’t respond to treatment.

This new drug-resistant TB can lead to a new infection in the original patient, who can then spread drug-resistant TB to other people. Drug-resistant TB is much more difficult to treat, often requiring a regimen of at least five drugs over 15 to 24 months.

With this new award, Johnson-Winters will study enzymes within Mtb to understand why they act differently on certain interventions. The grant will provide resources for additional purification equipment, columns and chemicals needed to further the research. The funds will also support specialized software that will allow researchers to better understand what’s going on inside the enzyme.

“Once we’ve done our experiments, we’ll also prepare a library of mutations to better understand the mechanism of specific enzymes that are targeted for difficult-to-treat TB,” Johnson-Winters said.

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