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Jun 04, 2013 at 10:42am IST

New York college claims Vitamin C kills drug resistant tuberculosis

Mumbai: An unexpected discovery at a New York medical college reveals that Vitamin C can kill drug resistant forms of tuberculosis. This comes as a huge relief for India as the country grapples with the world's fifth highest TB deaths.

The discovery has the potential to change the way tuberculosis, a deadly disease infecting 8.7 million people across the world, is treated. In laboratory studies, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have found that high doses of Vitamin C appeared to be acting like a "reducing agent" which wiped off entire populations of the deadly tuberculosis strains. They also found that free radicals induced by Vitamin C even killed the drug resistant forms of TB, untreatable by conventional antibiotics.

The lead investigator Dr William Jacobs told CNN-IBN, "This would be a great study to consider because we have strains of tuberculosis that we don't have drugs for and I know that in the laboratory we can kill those strains with Vitamin C. It also helps that we know Vitamin C is inexpensive, widely available and very safe to use. At the very least, this work shows us a new mechanism that we can exploit to attack TB."

India has the highest incidence of drug resistant TB in the world with an unacceptably low cure rate of 50 per cent in urban areas. With just one new drug for tuberculosis discovered in the past 40 years, what does this finding mean?

Chest specialist Dr Hemant Thacker said, "To me this is like a flash in the pan. Well, I would definitely pat on the back of the Albert Einstein college, but this is experimental. Experimentally they have shown that in animals or the tuberculosis bascilli in microscopic labs they have shown that there is elimination of the bug with the use of Vitamin C. Now how this is going to translate into humans, how we can use it in clinical practice remains to be seen."

But the high success rate of this experiment whose results were published in the journal Nature Communications does provide a rational basis for a human clinical trial.