UT Health Northeast team develops guidelines that could lead to more effective treatment for MAC patients
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UT Health Northeast team develops guidelines that could lead to more effective treatment for MAC patients

September 24, 2013

A UT Health Northeast researcher has shown that if the antibiotic amikacin kills a patient’s Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) in a lab culture, it’s also likely to be effective against MAC infections in that patient’s lungs and other organs.

Barbara Brown-Elliott, MS

Barbara Brown-Elliott, MS

Though amikacin has previously been used in combination with other antibiotics to treat MAC, guidelines to determine how much amikacin was needed to kill the bacteria in the lab did not exist, said Barbara Brown-Elliott, MS, research assistant professor in microbiology at UT Health Northeast.

MAC, while not contagious, is a serious disease. Its symptoms include cough, production of sputum (secretions from the lungs and tubes that carry air to the lungs), fatigue, weight loss, blood in the sputum, night sweats, and fever.

It occurs when MAC bacteria in the air, water, or soil invade the lungs or body of a susceptible person. Patients with MAC are treated with a combination of antibiotics, all of which have significant side effects.

“Currently, only three or four antibiotics are used in combination to treat most cases of MAC. Before our team did this study, there were lab testing guidelines for only one of these drugs,” said Brown-Elliott, supervisor of the internationally known Mycobacteria/Nocardia Laboratory at UT Health.

With this new finding, MAC patients’ responses can now be determined for two antibiotics rather than just one. Because of this research, fewer patients will end up taking drugs that likely won’t help them and come with the risk of side effects.

If the guidelines recommended by Brown-Elliott’s team are adopted by the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute, they will become the new international benchmark for determining MAC patients’ treatment.

Brown-Elliott, who is a research assistant professor in microbiology at UT Health Northeast, began working in the mycobacteria/Nocardia lab in 1988. Earlier this year she received the Scherago-Rubin Award from the American Society for Microbiology, one of the world’s most prestigious microbiology awards.

She is the lead author of the research article, which was recently published online by the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. Other UT Health co-authors are pulmonologist David E. Griffith, MD; research associate Elena Iakhiaeva; and infectious disease specialist Richard Wallace, Jr., MD.


For more than 60 years, UT Health Northeast has provided excellent patient care and cutting-edge treatment, specializing in pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, primary care, and the disciplines that support them. UT Health Northeast’s annual operating budget of $138.8 million represents a major economic impact of over $347 million for the Northeast Texas region. Since 2002, scientists in the Center for Biomedical Research have been awarded more than $120 million in research dollars. As the academic health science center for Northeast Texas, its graduate medical education programs – with residencies in family medicine and occupational medicine – provide doctors for many communities throughout the region and beyond. UT Health Northeast is also the program sponsor of the residency program in internal medicine at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview.

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