A Colorado State University researcher’s discovery that how tuberculosis is studied in laboratory settings across the world may not realistically model many human infections has earned her a New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health.
The award, which comes with a $1.5 million grant over five years, recognizes Dr. Diane Joyce Ordway, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology. Dr. Ordway discovered that laboratory strains of tuberculosis used in research programs do not invoke the same response in hosts as current strains of tuberculosis that infect most of the people in the world. Many of these strains of high virulence are resistant to multiple drugs - called MDR-TB strains that are commonly seen in humans - belong to the W-Beijing family of the bacteria that causes the disease.
Dr. Ordway has initial proof that some of the W-Beijing strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes the immune system in the host to stop working, making the illness particularly lethal and difficult to treat. Dr. Ordway also discovered that the current laboratory models to study how tuberculosis infections work in the host may not accurately reflect the immune system response of humans when infected with these highly virulent clinical isolates of tuberculosis. She is developing a new model that accurately reflects that response.
“I think we’re missing some meaningful information in the way we are currently working to develop drugs and vaccines against tuberculosis and researching the disease,” Dr. Ordway said. “We aren’t using laboratory models that are a realistic depiction of what is actually happening in clinical human cases. This could be why we haven’t found a drug that works better than the ones currently on the market.”
About 9 million people are infected with tuberculosis each year and 2 million die. Of the 9 million new cases each year, close to half a million are resistant to multiple drugs that once were effectively used to treat the disease. In 1993, the World Health Organization declared tuberculosis a global health emergency, a situation that continues today.
The National Institutes of Health awarded a total of $348 million to encourage researchers to explore bold ideas that have the potential to catapult fields forward and speed the translation of research into improved health. The awards were given in three categories – the NIH Director’s Transformative R01 Awards, Pioneer Awards and New Innovator Awards. The New Innovator Awards, such as the one that Dr. Ordway received, are also supported by funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Dr. Ordway received one of 55 New Innovator Awards given to early-stage researchers across the nation.