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January 27, 2021

WPI granted $435K to study African wormwood as tuberculosis treatment

Photo | Courtesy | Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Scarlett Shell

A Worcester Polytechnic Institute research effort that's looking into potential tuberculosis treatments has been given a federal grant of nearly $435,000.

The National Institutes of Health grant will help a research team led by Scarlett Shell, a biology and biotechnology professor, to study compounds from the sweet wormwood plant, which kills the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. The plant produces the compound artemisinin, which has been extracted, chemically modified, and developed to help treat malaria.

The two-year research project includes partners at Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University. Researchers plan to extract compounds from a form of the plant that is native to Africa, and study how they may work against tuberculosis-causing bacteria.

“We’ve found that treating the tuberculosis bacteria with extracts from wormwood plants not only stops the bacteria from growing, it kills the bacteria," Shell said in a statement. "That’s what’s so exciting about this research.”

Tuberculosis, an infectious disease, kills more than a million people annually worldwide. It is preventable and treatable, but is often overlooked by health providers and can be difficult to diagnose, according to the World Health Organization.

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