Though he’s no stranger to grants from the National Institutes of Health, Tony Hu, PhD, was surprised to be awarded three substantial awards all within the same week.
Hu, the inaugural Weatherhead Presidential Chair in Biotechnology Innovation and Director of the Center for Cellular & Molecular Diagnostics at Tulane University School of Medicine, has been awarded three grants totaling over $10 million to develop and validate new diagnostics for tuberculosis and better understand the interaction between the pathogen and human’s immune system in both adults and children.
Two of the grants, worth $3.8 million and $3.2 million, respectively, come from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Hu is also co-principal investigator on another $3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for a study headed by Richard Oberhelman, MD, Professor and Associate Dean for Global Health, and the Margaret W. and Eamon M. Kelly Distinguished Chair in International Development at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Tuberculosis remains a major global health threat, causing 10 million illnesses and 1.5 million deaths annually. But the disease can be challenging to diagnose, especially in children, using current sputum-based tests, so Hu intends to use the funding to create and validate new blood-based tests that can rapidly, easily, and accurately diagnose tuberculosis, including drug-resistant strains. The tests will utilize cutting-edge CRISPR and nanoparticle technology to detect Mycobacterium tuberculosis DNA and extracellular vesicles in patient blood samples.
One test aims to be a point-of-care diagnostic that can be used in resource-limited settings with high tuberculosis burden. The other will incorporate bacterial and host biomarkers to improve personalized diagnosis in vulnerable pediatric populations. The Oberhelman-led study will compare Hu’s cell-free DNA tests to existing diagnostic methods and quantitative imaging techniques like chest X-rays and lung ultrasounds.
Hu said the new funding is crucial to developing and validating the potential game-changing diagnostic platforms.
"The current screenings for TB are not comprehensive enough to give a solution for personalized management of the disease,” said Hu. “Our goal is to develop tests that can detect tuberculosis earlier and give doctors a better idea of how to treat every patient based on each individual’s pathological situation.”