Texas Biomed Selected as First NIH Training

Image: Dr. Joanne Turner, Executive Vice President of Texas Biomed, Senior Research and Tuberculosis Investigator. She will lead the core development of the new IN-TRAC at Texas Biomed.
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Credit: Texas Biomed

SAN ANTONIO (March 23, 2022) – The Texas Biomedical Research Institute has been selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to host one of the nation’s premier training centers for tuberculosis (TB) research.

The “NexGen Interdisciplinary Center for Tuberculosis Research” (IN-TRAC) will leverage the vast expertise, facilities, and unique collaborations based at Texas Biomed and South Texas, including the only free-standing tuberculosis hospital in the United States, and field research on the Texas-Mexico border. The result: a world-class training program for the next generation of TB researchers.

“We need to train the next and the best,” says Joanne Turner, PhD, executive vice president, research at Texas Biomed. “They are the ones who are going to implement a lot of cures and treatments.”

Tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, infecting more than 10 million people a year and killing more than a million people a year. World Tuberculosis Day on March 24 aims to raise awareness of the disease and efforts to tackle it, such as the World Health Organization’s Tuberculosis Strategy. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly delayed TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and TB deaths increased in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade. While rates are much higher in other countries, more than 13 million people in the United States are estimated to be living with latent or dormant TB infection.

“California and Texas are the top two states in the country with TB cases,” says Larry Schlesinger, MD, president, CEO and principal investigator of Texas Biomed. “TB is not an ‘out there’ phenomenon. It’s actually over here.

Schlesinger notes that tackling tuberculosis, which is a complex disease caused by a highly transmissible bacteria passed from human to human, is going to take time – and that means more research into the immune system, drug-resistant pathogens, treatments and vaccines.

As part of its strategic plan for tuberculosis research, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has invited applications to establish the first NexGen Interdisciplinary Centers for Tuberculosis Research (IN-TRAC) in 2021 and has committed to funding up to five centres. . Texas Biomed was recently selected to host one of these inaugural centers and will receive approximately $5.8 million over the next five years to support the training program. The other centers have not yet been announced.

The overarching goal of Texas Biomed’s IN-TRAC is to ensure that the next generation of TB researchers has the diverse skills and real-world experience to effectively fight this challenging disease. The key is cross training.

“That’s what really makes good scientists these days,” Turner says.

Postdoctoral scientists and staff scientists at Texas Biomed will not only investigate the basic science of tuberculosis bacteria and their interaction with the human immune system in petri dishes, but will discover different animal models that can help evaluate new drugs or vaccines. They will also be able to go into the field to learn first-hand how robust clinical trials are set up and run, and go to the hospital to see TB patients.

“Seeing TB disease opens trainees’ eyes,” says Turner. “Going to a clinic and actually seeing what the disease does to a person physically, really brings them back with a willingness to do more research and make more discoveries.”

By getting this broad bench-to-bedside exposure, researchers will be better prepared to ask more insightful questions and set up more relevant experiments. The center will also provide training in essential professional development skills, such as setting up an independent lab and communicating with the public.

Texas Biomed is well positioned to host an IN-TRAC. The faculty includes a large concentration of recognized TB experts: Schlesinger, Turner, Director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center, Deepak Kaushal, PhD; Jordi B. Torrelles, PhD; Smriti Mehra, PhD; Marie-Claire Gauduin, Ph.D.; and Shannan Hall-Ursone, DVM. Together, they lead more than 40 researchers who collaborate across disciplines to study tuberculosis. The institute also has a unique combination of resources and expertise in high biocontainment laboratories and in the development of animal models to study disease.

Texas Biomed also relies on its strong network of collaborators to engage in the training program, especially those specializing in clinical research and patient care. A key collaborator is Blanca Restrepo, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston, Brownsville School of Public Health, and UT Rio Grande Valley, who is leading clinical studies on tuberculosis patients on the Texas-Mexico border.

Southeast San Antonio is also home to the Texas Center for Infectious Diseases, a campus that includes the Heartland National TB Center – the only independent dedicated TB hospital in the United States and which sees some of the toughest TB cases in the world. country. The clinician-researchers and physicians there, especially Lisa Armitige, MD, PhD, the hospital’s assistant medical director and leader in TB treatment and testing protocols, will be essential training partners.

“The TB research environment in San Antonio is remarkable due to the combination of expertise, resources and partners here in South Texas,” says Schlesinger. “This new training center will build on this rich network, attract the best talent to the region and help transform the future of the field. You cannot end TB without training the next generation. »

Funding Information:

The IN-TRAC grant was awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under award number P30AI168439. The contents of this release are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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ABOUT TEXAS BIOMED

Texas Biomed is one of the world’s leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to eradicating infections and improving global health through innovative biomedical research. Texas Biomed partners with researchers and institutions around the world to develop vaccines and treatments against viral pathogens responsible for AIDS, hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, tuberculosis and parasitic diseases responsible for malaria and schistosomiasis. The Institute has programs on host-pathogen interaction, disease intervention and prevention, and population health to understand the links between infectious diseases and other diseases such as aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. For more information about Texas Biomed, visit www.TxBiomed.org.


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