The University of Washington Tuberculosis Research & Training Center (TRTC) held its fourth annual Tuberculosis Symposium on September 16, 2019. Over 100 researchers from UW, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Stanford University, IHME, and others participated in the symposium. The Symposium, entitled “Innovations to help end the TB epidemic; a new vision for the 21st century,” featured sessions on TB vaccines, the risk of TB disease in children, and TB control interventions, and showcased innovations to help end the TB epidemic, both locally and globally.
Valerie Mizrahi, a leading TB researcher from the University of Cape Town, opened the symposium with a keynote address on “Tackling big questions in tuberculosis: a TB biologist’s view from South Africa”. Mizrahi is an internationally renowned scientist in the TB research field, notably advancing biological understandings of the pathogen through her work on mycobacterial physiology and metabolism.
Among the researchers taking part in the symposium was Adrienne Shapiro, Acting Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Health, “This symposium offers a great platform for researchers - there’s a lot of collaboration between scientists to understand TB and its transmission.”
Shapiro, whose research focuses on TB prevention, especially as it interacts with HIV, discussed her current research focus. “We have a study in South Africa that asks the question, ‘Can we engage people in their communities rather than in the clinics to deliver safe, effective therapy?’ A huge component of that is looking at adherence by using a device developed by the Lutz Lab in UW bioengineering to detect the presence of isoniazid [an antibiotic commonly used to treat TB] in urine.”
Shapiro recognizes that one of the biggest obstacles to ending the TB epidemic is identifying those who have the disease.
“I work on TB diagnostics because almost a third of the world’s TB cases are not diagnosed,” Shapiro explained. “There’s a big problem of missing TB cases, and part of that is because the current screening tools we have are not great. One of the big questions we have to answer is, ‘How do we develop and integrate better tools into public health systems?’"
While diagnosing and preventing disease is part of the battle, applying that knowledge to the people who need it remains a challenge.
“I’m working on an ongoing study with Dr. Ruanne Barnabas [Associate Professor, Global Health], looking at delivery of TB preventive therapy, and integrating that into community-based delivery of antiretroviral therapy in high-burdened settings,” Shapiro said. “We’re working toward understanding how to bridge this gap between the people who need therapy and those who are actually getting it by integrating the TB and HIV pathways.”
Along with Shapiro, UW Department of Global Health researchers Jennifer Ross, Paul Drain, Sylvia LaCourse, David Horne, and others are pioneering new ways to diagnose, prevent, and treat TB. Ross recently received a grant to study TB-HIV preventive therapy, as TB is the leading cause of death among people with HIV. Drain has been conducting evaluation studies on diagnostic TB testing.