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Research / Discovery

International efforts in tuberculosis research

October 1, 2010

Wandering through the corridors of the Microbiology Building you may notice a variety of accents from different parts of the globe. Researchers come to CSU from all over the world to improve their competences, and at Mary Jackson's lab, it isn't any different. The lab currently employs individuals from the U.S., Poland, India, Brazil, Argentina, Tunisia, and France.

Hoping to generate new drugs, vaccines

Anna Grzegorzewicz (Poland) and Vijay Gundi (India) are visiting scientists researching new vaccines against tuberculosis.

“Diversity in terms of nationality and background is a very good thing to have in a research lab. It brings new ideas, sometimes different ways of thinking, in addition to teaching us a lot about the outside world and other cultures”, says Jackson. She believes the large number of applications from abroad is due to the university’s reputation in the field of mycobacteria research, as well as the concentration of tuberculosis infections in developing countries.

“Scientists come here to learn new techniques and methodologies that they can then bring back to their home countries, where most patients are.”

Their research studies enzymes and transporters associated with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB), with the goal to identify anti-tuberculosis drug targets, and to generate new vaccines. With the support of the Radiation Control Office, they utilize radioactive isotopes to identify biosynthetic intermediates present in very low quantities in the bacterial cells, which they could not visualize otherwise. The radiolabeled tracers are applied to study the mode of action of anti-TB drugs, to monitor enzyme activities in vitro, and to test new inhibitors against them.

Jackson explains that most of the time, no commercial substrates exist for the Mycobacterial-specific enzymes that they are studying. “We generate radiolabeled substrates ourselves for use in enzymatic reactions, and to decipher the biosynthetic pathways of complex lipids and (lipo)polysaccharides in whole recombinant bacterial cells and cell-free extracts.”

Research has no borders

One-dimensional autoradiographic TLC of FAMEs and MAMEs from [1,2-14C] labeled Mycobacterium smegmatis in the presence and absence of different drugs.

After researching post-doc programs in Europe, Anna Grzegorzewicz, from Wroclaw, Poland, chose the U.S. as her destination based on the quality of the programs offered here. She studies the mode of action of different drugs to combat the TB virus.

“My research focuses on the study of Isoxyl, a drug that was used against TB in the 70’s.” Anna clarifies that this drug works by inhibiting the oleic and mycolic acids, although the target is unknown. “If we can answer this question”, she says, “we will be able to design better drugs to fight the disease.”

The World Health Organization, or WHO, estimates that one third of the world population carries TB bacteria in its latent state. However, according to Anne Villela, from Porto Alegre, Brazil, if the individual’s immune system is weakened by another disease, such as HIV, or simply by advancing age, the bacteria could potentially pose a health risk. Anne studies the enzyme Uracil phosphoribosyl transferase, and its role in the latent state of the tuberculosis bacteria.

TB bacteria carried in latent state can turn deadly

“The TB bacteria combined with HIV is deadly, and that is why it is so important to treat the disease in its latent state,“ says Anne.

In the 16 years Dr. Jackson has been dedicated to the study of TB, Jackson developed collaboration with numerous laboratories particularly in Europe, Latin America, the U.S., India, and South Korea.

“Some of our collaborators recommend students and researchers for post-doctoral, doctoral, or shorter-term trainings. These highly recommended scientists are usually very well-trained in a lab and highly motivated. Research has no borders and this is particularly true for infectious diseases.”

Read more in the Radiation Control Office Newsletter >>>

Contact: Fernanda Dore
Phone: (970) 491-4835