By, Carol Borchert
Colorado State University tuberculosis researchers recently received five Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
grants. The projects, which total about $3.65 million, enable researchers in the Mycobacteria Research Laboratories
to develop everything from models that better mimic the impact of tuberculosis infection in humans to tuberculosis-detecting tests that can be used in countries with few resources.
According to the World Health Organization
, one-third of the world’s population is infected with tuberculosis, and an estimated 1.7 million people die each year of the disease. Strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis continue to evolve and emerge in countries around the world. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a major funding source for tuberculosis research and the foundation’s grant process is highly competitive.
"The fact that five grants were given to Colorado State researchers in a short period of time is a testament to how well established and respected the tuberculosis research program is at Colorado State,” said Dr. Gregg Dean, Head of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology
. “It speaks to the talent and capability of this program, and is evidence that the program has made significant contributions to human health.”
The grants will fund the following research projects:
- A $680,000 grant funds a project overseen by Dr. Karen Dobos. Dr. Dobos will work on initial steps to develop a cheap, fast, simple and specific test for tuberculosis. Cells infected with the bacteria that causes TB produce products that the cell sequesters and spits out within small, coated packets. Those products, or biomarkers, are in the urine, saliva and serum of infected people. Developing a test that specifically flags those biomarkers would help doctors better identify active infections of TB, especially in poor countries where the standard TB skin test has been used since the 1940s and does not identify whether the patient has active TB or simply has had exposure or was vaccinated in the past. This project also includes CSU researcher Nicole Kruh-Garcia, University of Notre Dame researcher Jeff Schorey, and University of California-San Francisco researchers Luke Davis and Payam Nahid.
- A $600,000 grant to Dr. John Belisle further identifies molecules that signal a TB infection in the urine, saliva or serum that could be used to diagnose TB strains. The aim of both Drs. Dobos and Belisle’s projects is to demonstrate whether these bodily fluids would provide a scientifically sound method of diagnosis and could be further developed into products that could be tested in clinical trials. This project also includes CSU researchers Mary Ann DeGroote, Sebabrata Mahapatra and Ann Hess.
- A third grant also will further develop the strategy of using urine, serum or saliva for a field test. This $486,000 grant will investigate DNA-like nucleic acid molecules for their ability to signal the presence of products produced by the bacteria that causes TB in body fluids as a potential diagnostic tool. CSU researcher Delphi Chatterjee will collaborate in this project, which is overseen by Dr. Daniel Feldheim, a researcher at University of Colorado. Other CSU researchers include Prithwiraj De and Anita Amin.
- A $1.2 million grant was awarded to develop a laboratory model that better mimics how human lungs respond to infection with the bacterium that causes TB. The project, led by Dr. Anne Lenaerts, will particularly target persisting strains of TB bacteria, which are the most difficult to treat. Developing a model that is truer to real situations will then be used to test new drugs treatments for tuberculosis. This project includes CSU researchers Randall Basaraba, Mercedes Juarrero and Mike Lyons, as well as University of Colorado geneticist Martin Voskuil.
- A $1 million grant to further compare laboratory models for realistic responses of a host with TB infection. Dr. Dean Crick, the researcher overseeing the project, says that the bacterium that causes TB doesn’t respond the same in a test tube as it does in a host. This project will help look at the cell chemistry of lung tissue responding to the bacteria in a more realistic environment. Currently most studies that look at the bacteria’s cell chemistry do not also evaluate lung tissue response. The research team on this project also includes CSU researchers Belisle, Lenaerts, Chatterjee and Michael McNeil. In addition, Dr. Joanne Flynn from the University of Pittsburgh also is involved.