Northeastern University announced that Dr. Kim Lewis, Professor of Biology and Director of the Antimicrobial Center, is among the recipients of $280 million in grants the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has dedicated to help support the research and speed the development of TB vaccines, diagnostic tests, and treatments.
Northeastern's $750,000 grant will help Dr. Lewis and his team to develop an approach to anti-tuberculosis therapy by studying the latency of tuberculosis.
“The Gates Foundation is leading the charge against tuberculosis by providing substantial support for new ideas that are likely to revolutionize the treatment of the disease” said Lewis. “We are proud to be part of this effort and work together with outstanding scientists around the world to do research that serves global, societal needs.”
Dr. Lewis is a leading expert on dormancy in bacteria, and his lab discovered that many pathogens form “persister” cells which neither grow nor die and are unresponsive to antibiotics. Working with a model organism, E. coli, Dr. Lewis and his group were able to isolate these persister cells for the first time, and study the genes responsible for dormancy.
The knowledge gained from his research will now be used, with support from the Gates award, to learn whether a similar dormancy program is responsible for latency of tuberculosis. These findings will lay the ground for a development of anti-TB drugs capable of eradicating dormant cells, and drastically cut the time of treatment.
Tuberculosis claims the lives of nearly 2 million people every year and has been qualified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a global health emergency since 1993. The infection is easy to transmit and difficult to treat with conventional antibiotics, because the disease can take on a “latent” form in which the pathogen seems to be inactive and does not respond to treatment, resulting in the need for protracted, potentially year-long treatment regiment.
“The current TB therapeutics are decades old an fairly ineffective” said Dr. Lewis. “Combined with the rising drug resistance, there is an extreme urgency for science to get ahead of this epidemic.”
Stopping this contagious lung disease has been a priority for the Gates Foundation and to date, they have fulfilled half of their $900 million commitment to fund TB research through 2015. The newly awarded grants will focus on three key areas, including the clinical trials of several vaccine candidates; development of accurate and easy-to-use tests; and identification of new treatments to combat drug resistance.