Bill & Melinda Gates Award UMDNJ $1.5 Million Grant
for Tuberculosis Study by School of Public Health Researcher
NEWARK — During the next two years, a researcher from The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, Public Health Research Institute Center will study how to combat the potentially harmful response of a patient's immune system to antibiotics which renders the drug ineffective in killing the tuberculosis bacteria.
Gilla Kaplan, Ph.D. Public Health Research Institute Center was awarded $1.5 million from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a study aimed at improving TB treatment methods. Through September 2009, Kaplan, chief investigator, and her team of researchers and physicians will study the critical need to accelerate the development of new therapeutic treatment and drugs for TB.
Kaplan said the study is necessary in finding efficient ways to manage the disease. “Tuberculosis is becoming more prevalent and harder to treat with the emergence of drug resistance among individuals,” she said. Kaplan further explained that TB infection is difficult to treat because as the immune response slows down bacterial growth, the TB bacteria become less responsive to antibiotics.
Currently, in order to kill all the bacteria, patients are treated daily with a combination of antibiotics for a minimum of six months. “The reason antibiotics don’t work better is because they were selected for their ability to kill fast growing organisms,” said Kaplan. “It is the job of the immune response to slow down the growth of the bacteria in the lungs. However, this unfortunately results in interference with the activity of antibiotics. When the growth of the organisms slows down, the antibiotics fail to kill them as efficiently.”
Kaplan said her team is suggesting that it is possible to modify the immune response in a targeted manner so that it doesn’t drive the bacteria into a physiologic state in which they do not grow well in the infected tissues. If the immune response can be modified so that it relaxes its pressure on the bacteria and allows them to remain metabolically active, treatment with antibiotics would be expected to kill the bacteria much more efficiently.
She will be joined by four UMDNJ physicians and researchers; Dr. Liana Tsenova, Dr. Ryhor Harbacheuski, Claudia Manca, Ph.D., and Mi-Sun Koo, Ph.D. and a collaborator from Switzerland. After two years, the foundation will evaluate Kaplan’s and the other researchers’ progress to determine whether additional funding will be awarded.
UMDNJ is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.