Tuberculosis: Modern Approaches for a Pre-historic Disease
There are an estimated 10 million tuberculosis cases per year, causing more than 1.5 million deaths worldwide. In fact, it is the single most deadly infectious disease globally. As Canada Research Chair in Mycobacterial Genomics, Dr. Marcel Behr is trying to answer the question of how this organism survives and thrives in humans.
Using modern genomic tools, Behr and his research team aim to understand the evolution of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the organism that causes the disease. More specifically, by comparing Mycobacterium tuberculosis to related organisms that do not cause the disease, they hope to shed light on the bacterial factors that cause human disease more generally.
Additionally, by comparing strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from epidemiologically defined cohorts, Behr and his team will use bacterial differences to track tuberculosis transmission over space and time.
Their research will result in new hypotheses about bacterial strategies that enable infection and disease. These theories will then be tested by disrupting and replacing genes in experimental investigations. Understanding how this organism manipulates our immune system to survive within our bodies—and then uses our immune response to transmit itself between humans—is critical for the development of new interventions to stop the epidemic.
The genomic differences uncovered by Behr and his team will contribute to diagnostic tests to detect infection and disease, and inform policies to better apply existing tools. Better understanding interactions between Microbacterium tuberculosis and our immune system could also lead to a new vaccine to block infections.