According to the World Health Organization, about 1.5 million people died of TB in 2017, making it the most lethal infectious disease worldwide. 

In the first days after the tuberculosis (TB) bacteria infect the body, a flurry of immune cells are activated to fight the infection. Now, researchers have identified a master cell that coordinates the body’s immune defenses in those crucial early days, according to a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis  and Africa Health Research Institutein KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. 

The findings, published June 5 in the journal Nature, suggest that bolstering such cells’ activity could help prevent the deadly bacteria from gaining a foothold in the lungs and reduce the tens of millions of new infections that occur across the globe every year. 

This new discovery opens up a new avenue for controlling TB infection.

The existing TB vaccine is only effective against some forms of the disease and is less effective in some  populations — older children and adults, for example. Despite being widely used, it has failed to halt transmission of the disease.