November 10, 2016

Grants enhance Tuberculosis Center’s global research efforts

Since July, investigators in the Vanderbilt Tuberculosis Center have been awarded research grants totaling $5 million.

Since July, investigators in the Vanderbilt Tuberculosis Center have been awarded research grants totaling $5 million.

The center’s outlook is global, with a focus on performing epidemiological and clinical studies to improve tuberculosis (TB) treatment and prevention.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports there were an estimated 10.4 million new TB cases in 2015, and 1.8 million TB deaths, including 400,000 deaths resulting from TB among people living with HIV.

According to the WHO, research and development efforts devoted to TB are severely underfunded, particularly in light of the United Nations’ stated goal of stopping the epidemic.

Timothy Sterling, M.D.
Timothy Sterling, M.D.

“A lot of people in the U.S. mistakenly think TB is no longer a problem. The WHO has targets for what TB research funding should be in the U.S. and globally, and we’re well below where we need to be,” said infectious diseases specialist Timothy Sterling, M.D., David E. Rogers Professor of Medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Tuberculosis Center.

According to Sterling, since its launch in 2012, the center has received increased grant funding each year.

A Vanderbilt-led program in Brazil is part of a consortium called Regional Prospective Observational Research in Tuberculosis International, or RePORT. The RePORT-Brazil program has established a human biorepository in the city of Salvador to support work on molecular biomarkers, including genetic profiles for predicting treatment response.

“We essentially built the repository from scratch,” Sterling said.

Among the center’s current research efforts:

• RePORT-Brazil has been awarded a one-year $800,000 supplemental grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH grant AI69923-12) to fund continued enrollment of people with TB and their close contacts living in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Manaus. It will also fund research into the relationship between diabetes and TB, and research on molecular biomarkers that may help distinguish TB disease from latent infection (one-third of the world’s population carries latent M. tuberculosis infection).

• With the help of a separate four-year $2.7 million NIH grant (AI120790), investigators will use data from the RePORT-Brazil research cohort to begin examining the role of common genetic variants in TB drug response. This study is in collaboration with Vanderbilt investigators David Haas, M.D., Digna Velez Edwards, Ph.D., and Richard Caprioli, Ph.D.

• Vanderbilt also collaborates with RePORT-South Africa, which plans to use the same study protocol developed for RePORT-Brazil. A three-year $400,000 grant from CRDF Global will fund enrollment of people with TB in the city of Durbin. This grant will also support research into biomarkers to predict TB treatment response.

• A two-year $432,000 NIH grant (AI127129) will support research into the immune response to TB, which could aid TB vaccine development. The intention is to gather data for this study from research subjects in the United States. This study is led by Vanderbilt investigator Spyros Kalams, M.D.

• A one-year $700,000 NIH grant (AI118361) will support an investigation of TB drug resistance in patients with HIV-related TB, again using data from patients in the U.S.

The Vanderbilt Tuberculosis Center is a joint program of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health.

In addition to working internationally, the center collaborates with local and state public health officials.

At Vanderbilt the center’s members include investigators specializing in infectious diseases, global health, public health, biomedical informatics, vaccine research, health policy, biomedical engineering, pathology, epidemiology, biostatistics, chemistry and biochemistry.