Global commitment of Max Planck researchers


13 million US-dollar grant awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Of the 6 billion people living on this globe, more than 2 billion are infected with the tubercle bacillus; every 15 seconds someone dies of this disease. To reduce the social and economic consequences of tuberculosis, new intervention strategies are urgently required. An international consortium coordinated by Prof. Stefan H.E. Kaufmann, director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, attempts to identify the molecular defence mechanisms responsible for protection against tuberculosis. The researchers will attempt to identify immune system differences between people who are exposed to tuberculosis and never become sick, and those who develop serious disease. The associated biomarkers are urgently needed for the rational design and clinical testing of an improved vaccine.

The "Grand Challenge" Project which is supported by 13 Mio US$ over 5 years aims at understanding which immune responses provide protection against tuberculosis. The goal is to identify biomarkers required for design and clinical testing of novel vaccines which protect people with latent infection from developing tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is a major health problem globally, and especially in low-income countries. Each year more than 8 million people develop disease, and another 2 million die. It is estimated that one third of the global population is latently infected with the tubercle bacillus. With progressive HIV-1 co-infection, the risk of tuberculosis increases dramatically. In Africa, HIV-1 has become the single, most important factor determining the increased incidence of tuberculosis.

Despite effective drug-treatment strategies for tuberculosis patients and the widespread use of the available vaccine Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) in infants, the enormous reservoir of latent tuberculosis that keeps perpetuating the epidemic has not come under control. A novel vaccine is expected to become the most cost-effective measure of tuberculosis control and will ideally complement current drug-treatment strategies.

The major roadblock in the development of new tuberculosis vaccines is the lack of understanding what constitutes protective immunity. Insights into the mechanisms of protection and disease progression will lead to the definition of biomarkers that can predict, whether a new tuberculosis vaccine will be effective.

The Project Consortium will apply sophisticated molecular and immunological tools to study immune responses against the tubercle bacillus during natural infection in endemic populations in Africa, the impact of progressive HIV-1 infection and its treatment and changes during vaccination with BCG and novel vaccine candidates.

The Project Consortium consists of 15 laboratories in Africa, the USA and Europe (Germany, The Netherlands, UK and Denmark) and will concentrate its work in 5 different tuberculosis endemic countries across the African continent (The Gambia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi, and The Republic of South Africa). The participating researchers have a long-standing experience and infrastructure to carry out the required studies. This Consortium thus combines multiple scientific disciplines including clinical sciences, epidemiology, microbiology, genomics, as well as molecular and cellular immunology.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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