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Gates Foundation Partners with Northeastern University to Fight Global TB Epidemic

University Research Team is One of 11 Grantees Sharing the $280 Million Fund

Northeastern University announced today that Dr. Kim Lewis, Professor of Biology and Director of the Antimicrobial Center, is among the recipients of $280 million in grants the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has dedicated to help support the research and speed the development of TB vaccines, diagnostic tests, and treatments. Northeastern’s $750,000 grant will help Dr. Lewis and his team to develop an approach to anti-tuberculosis therapy by studying the latency of tuberculosis.

“The Gates Foundation is leading the charge against tuberculosis by providing substantial support for new ideas that are likely to revolutionize the treatment of the disease” said Lewis. “We are proud to be part of this effort and work together with outstanding scientists around the world to do research that serves global, societal needs.”

Dr. Lewis is a leading expert on dormancy in bacteria, and his lab discovered that many pathogens form “persister” cells which neither grow nor die and are unresponsive to antibiotics. Working with a model organism, E. coli, Dr. Lewis and his group were able to isolate these persister cells for the first time, and study the genes responsible for dormancy.

The knowledge gained from his research will now be used, with support from the Gates award, to learn whether a similar dormancy program is responsible for latency of tuberculosis. These findings will lay the ground for a development of anti-TB drugs capable of eradicating dormant cells, and drastically cut the time of treatment.

Tuberculosis claims the lives of nearly 2 million people every year and has been qualified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a global health emergency since 1993. The infection is easy to transmit and difficult to treat with conventional antibiotics, because the disease can take on a “latent” form in which the pathogen seems to be inactive and does not respond to treatment, resulting in the need for protracted, potentially year-long treatment regiment.

“The current TB therapeutics are decades old and fairly ineffective” said Dr. Lewis. “Combined with the rising drug resistance, there is an extreme urgency for science to get ahead of this epidemic.”

Stopping this contagious lung disease has been a priority for the Gates Foundation and to date, they have fulfilled half of their $900 million commitment to fund TB research through 2015. The newly awarded grants will focus on three key areas, including the clinical trials of several vaccine candidates; development of accurate and easy-to-use tests; and identification of new treatments to combat drug resistance.

For more information about Dr. Kim Lewis’ research, please contact Renata Nyul at 617-373-7424 or at r.nyul@neu.edu.

About Northeastern

Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston.  Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world.  The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions.  For more information, please visit www.neu.edu.


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