You can read this article thanks to the Eset Science Award, an award that supports exceptional science in Slovakia. Biochemist Katarína Mikušová is a finalist in the Eset Science Award.
Biochemist Katarína Mikušová accidentally got into the research of the causative agent of tuberculosis, the bacillus Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In the early 1990s, her husband accepted an offer of scientific work in the United States, so the young family left there. After half a year, however, she began to look for herself after working in her field. She joined a scientific group that deals with mycobacteria. This topic caught her heart at the time and she did not let go, even though she returned to Slovakia after more than three years. With her long-term treatment, she also contributed to the development of a new drug against tuberculosis.
Did you originally want to be a doctor, which eventually led you to study biochemistry?
– In 1983, when I decided where to go after high school, they did not have enough knowledge to study medicine. Rather, other factors were important that I could not observe, so I did not even apply to the Faculty of Medicine. I decided to study biochemistry thanks to great teachers at the grammar school in Poprad; to my parents, who led me from an early age to love nature and my uncle, who told me about the possibilities of studying biochemistry at the Faculty of Science, Charles University. I have never regretted this decision.
How did you just get to research the bacillus that causes tuberculosis?
– It was a complete coincidence. I was looking for a job in a university town in the United States, where my family and I came in 1992. I was lucky enough to get on a great working team. I was fascinated by the subject of his research and have remained faithful to it to this day.
Can you help with simplicity, what will be the success of your research?
– We explained how the cell envelope of the tuberculosis bacillus is built. This is a unique protective width that protects this pathogen from the host’s immune system or common antibiotics. This information about the development of a new drug against tuberculosis – macosinone.
If a patient starts a new tuberculosis drug, what will be the benefit for you compared to existing medicines? What stage of development is this drug at?
– Tuberculosis is normally treated with a combination of several medicines given over 6 months. Macosinone is in the second phase of further trials and has been shown to be able to process the elimination of tuberculosis bacilli in patients. The aim is to propose a treatment procedure that would significantly shorten the treatment of this disease, while the ultimate reason is to eliminate this common disease.
Compulsory vaccination against tuberculosis in our country ended ten years ago. Was that the right decision? Do you think tuberculosis is still a dangerous disease today?
– The TB vaccine is effective mainly against specific forms of tuberculosis in childhood and is especially important in areas with a high incidence of diseases, which is not the case in Slovakia. Today, tuberculosis is a component, especially in the poorest regions of the world. It is a serious but treatable disease. Nevertheless, about 1.5 weeks of people die of tuberculosis each year. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, tuberculosis led to a slowdown in all infectious diseases as a result of the victims and certainly remains a dangerous disease.
For 30 years of research into drug discovery
When Katarína Mikušová began to get acquainted with the world of mycobacteria in 1992, she received a clear article on the structure of the mycobacterial cell wall. There were a number of questions in the part describing its construction, which was an interesting help for the studied biochemist. However, over the last 30 years, many of these issues have not been successfully addressed. “And I was lucky to be able to contribute to this discovery.” says biochemist Katarína Mikušová.
Research into mycobacteria, and in particular the bacillus Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis, began in the USA and continued at the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Bratislava. She studied at the Department of Biochemistry of this faculty and worked before leaving for the USA. Gradually, she manages to build a specialized laboratory there. Even with the help of her student and later colleague Jana Korduláková, they made a name for him abroad and in 2006 they invited them to an international consortium focused on the development of drugs against tuberculosis.
Katarína Mikušová’s work may also expand the possibilities of treating tuberculosis in the near future. By examining the construction of the cell wall of mycobacteria, ie their specific protective envelope, so it also contributed to the development of a new antituberculotic agent macosinone, which are already in the second phase of clinical testing.