UTHSC: $1.4 million grant renewal to inspire tuberculosis research at Tyler research center

UTHSC: $1.4 million grant renewal to inspire tuberculosis research at Tyler research center

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) at Tyler received a $1.4 million grant renewal which will help the facility continue tuberculosis research.

The grant is an award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and CRDF Global, according to a UTHSC spokesperson. The grant will allow Rama Vankayalapati, Ph.D., to continue to explore the human immune responses to the disease. Simply put, the research aims to help identify persons at increased risk of developing active TB.

“Our research helps to ensure that the United States continues to maintain a low incidence rate,” Dr. Vankayalapati explained. “As we come to understand more about TB, we are able to take preventive actions to ensure that we do not have a mass tuberculosis outbreak.”

The research is being conducted in India, while data and samples are sent to the UTHSC biomedical research facility in Tyler for further review.

The $1.4 million grant renewal is slated for the next five years to continue TB research.

The following information was released by UTHSC:

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has been awarded a grant renewal in the amount of nearly $1.4 million ($1,397,390) to continue tuberculosis (TB) research in their biomedical research center. The grant is an award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and CRDF Global. Serving as the principal investigator, Rama (Krishna) Vankayalapati, Ph.D., will continue to explore the human immune responses to the disease. Simplistically, the research aims to find novel biomarkers that will identify persons at increased risk of developing active TB.

While less common in the United States, TB is still considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as one of the world’s deadliest diseases. The United States TB incidence rate in 2018 was the lowest ever reported at 2.8 cases per 100,000 persons. Approximately 66% of these cases were attributed to non–U.S.-born persons. While the United States is experiencing low rates, the rest of the world is not. The CDC cites that one-quarter of the world’s population is infected with TB. In 2017, 10 million people around the world were diagnosed with the disease. Additionally, the CDC cites 1.3 million TB-related deaths worldwide for 2017. Given these statistics, Dr. Vankayalapati stresses the importance of TB research and the study of international disease to make certain the U.S. doesn’t experience the same issues.

“Our research helps to ensure that the United States continues to maintain a low incidence rate,” explained Dr. Vankayalapati. “As we come to understand more about TB, we are able to take preventive actions to ensure that we do not have a mass tuberculosis outbreak.”

The ongoing study is conducted in India as part of the Regional Prospective Observational Research for Tuberculosis (RePORT)-India consortia. The Indo-NIH investment and TB research consortium of RePORT-India has developed cohorts of TB cases and household contacts in India and paired Indian investigators with U.S. investigators. Additional partners in this study include Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University, Boston University and the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Vankayalapati’s research revolves around TB patient household contacts (HHC) in India. The HHC of TB patients is at a high risk of developing TB due to their frequent exposure to infected patients. Among HHC, approximately 30% develop latent or active TB, while the remaining never develop it. The identification of persons who are at a greatly increased risk for the development of TB would be a significant breakthrough. This breakthrough would allow public health resources to be focused on high-risk individuals to prevent their future development of TB. Examination of HHC takes place in their natural setting, in a real-time manner, to study TB development and explore the early immune components involved in protection against TB. Most of the markers identified so far are not specific for TB or are not sufficiently sensitive to use as biomarkers for the disease. Dr. Vankayalapati’s study includes a detailed follow-up of all HHC (every four months) and mechanistic understanding to identify the high-risk healthy HHC of the infected patients as soon as the active TB patients are identified within the household.

During the last five years (phase one), Dr. Vankayalapati’s team followed 975 healthy HHC of TB patients for two years. Throughout the two years, they obtained blood samples at four-month intervals and determined the various factors responsible for the development of active TB in the HHC. During the 24-month follow-up period, 17 HHC developed active tuberculosis, and 15 (88%) of these progressors (those who developed active TB) were in the age group of 15 to 30 years old. The team found that at baseline (“0” time point when all the individuals were healthy), the circulating thyroid hormone T4 levels were significantly lower in those that developed active TB compared to those of age-matched individuals that never developed the disease. During phase two, the team will confirm the above findings, mechanistically understand and develop a kit to identify the individuals likely to develop active TB.

“We want to understand why everyone isn’t contracting TB. Everyone is exposed to it within the home; however, not everyone is becoming infected,” explained Dr. Vankayalapati.

Dr. Vankayalapati’s team consists of Drs. Julie Philley, Buka Samten, Deepak Tripathi, Karan Singh, and Richard Idell. Dr. Idell, son of renowned researcher Dr. Steven Idell, is a psychiatrist with UT Health Science Center at Tyler and offers a different research approach for the team. Dr. Idell is examining the psychological effects taking place to understand often developed depression with TB patients and those surrounding them.

Copyright 2019 KLTV. All rights reserved.