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In the 1950s it seemed like TB would soon be consigned to the history books. In the early 2000s it has killed more than a million people a year. What went wrong, and how can tuburculosis finally be tamed?

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George Orwell, Franz Kafka, Charlotte Bront� and Frederic Chopin all died of a disease known, at the time, as consumption. 2007 marks the 125th anniversary of the discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the infectious agent of the disease we now call TB.

The word 'consumption' conjures images of bygone eras, but tuberculosis today infects more than one-third of the world's population; 10% of them will develop the disease during their lifetime; 1.7 million people will die this year. A map of the disease's prevelance shows how Africa and Asia carry the bulk of this burden.

The development of the antibiotic streptomycin in 1943 made for a cure, and for a short while the disease seemed on the ebb. Today, however, TB remains as much of a threat as it was before antibiotics. So what happened?

Poor adherence to control programmes, the consequent emergence of drug resistance, and the widespread prevalence of HIV has caused a resurgence; now it threatens to escalate out of control.

Solving the problem

Public-private partnerships are throwing money at the problem, and after decades of drought, new drug possibilities flood the pipeline.

What's needed now are better ways of diagnosing the disease, a rethink of the drug regimine, and a workable vaccine. But bureaucracy, along with more scientific problems, still stand in the way.

Nature Medicine has polled leading TB experts and asked them to select papers that showcase the most important advances in tuberculosis research over the past three years, and invited some to write summary pieces about what has happened so far with this disease, and where we need to go next. To read these more academic insights, see the full list of commentaries and other articles on Nature Medicine's website.


TB's toll: Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have the highest prevalence of tuberculosis.

Back to summary

Mark Harrington
Head of the New York-bases activist organisation Treatment Action Group: a liberal arts graduate who has come a long way in science policy.
06 March 2006
Ken Duncan
Senior officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's TB program: a man ready for a fight.
06 March 2006
Mario Raviglione
Director of the World Health Organization's Stop TB: pushing for a plan.
06 March 2006
Wafaa El-Sadr
Director of Columbia University's Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiological Research, and the closest thing to a saint her colleagues say they'll ever meet.
06 March 2006
Tackling tuberculosis
There is a dangerous gulf between the global programmes to fight AIDS and TB.
06 March 2007
Unlikely partners tackle TB funding woes
06 March 2007
After decades of drought, new drug possibilities flood TB pipeline
06 March 2007
From TB tests, just a 'yes' or 'no' answer, please
06 March 2007
A clash of cultures
HIV and tuberculosis are a deadly combination, ravaging populations in Africa and Asia. But the two disease camps are too busy fighting each other to heed the crisis, says Apoorva Mandavilli.
06 March 2007
Health agency pulls back on patronizing approach to TB treatment
06 March 2007
Trials and tribulations
Scientists studying tuberculosis are struggling with scarce funds, layers of bureaucracy and a lack of markers that can clearly identify which treatments are working, reports Apoorva Mandavilli.
06 March 2007
A dozen vaccine candidates bring shot of hope to TB epidemic
06 March 2007
When the vaccine causes disease
06 March 2007
AIDS special (2004)
Malaria special (2002)
Extreme TB strain threatens HIV victims worldwide
13 September 2006
Curbing AIDS epidemic means treating TB
17 August 2006
Profile: Richard Chaisson
01 January 2005
New vaccines, drugs revitalize tuberculosis research
01 July 2005
Tuberculosis stats drive search for new drugs
23 March 2005
Vaccine helps to banish tuberculosis
3 February 2005
Compound J tackles tuberculosis
9 December 2004
Mandela launches fight against HIV and TB
15 July 2004
WHO urges world to fight TB 'super-strains'
16 March 2004
Cash boost for tuberculosis vaccine
13 February 2004
Tuberculosis hits back (book review)
22 January 2004
Smoking doubles TB deaths
15 August 2003
Immunity to TB gets a boost
25 June 2002
New TB vaccines to be tested
01 Dec 2001
A tool to tame TB
01 February 2000
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