National Institutes of Health Funds Tuberculosis Vaccine Research at TTUHSC El Paso

Subramanian Dhandayuthapani, Ph.D., an associate professor in Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Infectious Diseases, was recently awarded a $492,258 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. The grant, from a highly competitive Research Enhancement Award (R15) program, is often awarded to just one in 10 applicants. It will assist Dr. Dhandayuthapani in efforts to develop new vaccines against tuberculosis, commonly known as TB. 

Caused by the bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, TB kills approximately 1.5 million people annually worldwide. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, El Paso is one of many counties along the U.S.-Mexico border with a higher-than-average TB rate. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 32 border counties had an average TB incidence rate of 8.4 out of every 100,000, which was more than double the Texas TB rate and nearly triple the national rate. El Paso County had 22 reported cases.  

Dr. Dhandayuthapani said the emergence of multidrug-resistant strains of TB and drug-resistant Mycobacterium pose serious problems because they’re difficult to treat with existing drugs used to treat all TB patients.  

“Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) is the only available vaccine against TB, but it fails to prevent adult pulmonary TB, the most prevalent form of TB. Therefore, development of alternate vaccines against TB is greatly needed,” Dr. Dhandayuthapani said. 

According to the CDC, BCG is not widely used in the United States and does not always protect people from contracting TB.  

Dr. Dhandayuthapani has been pursuing gene knockout technologies – a method of making certain genes inoperative – to develop new vaccines against TB. Recently, he developed a quadruple knockout (QKO) vaccine strain by deleting four genes in the genome of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.  

The QKO vaccine strain provokes a robust immune response in the study’s mouse vaccination model, suggesting its protective potential against TB. The NIH grant will support Dr. Dhandayuthapani as he conducts additional studies on the QKO vaccine’s effectiveness and safety.  

Jessica Chacon, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Foster School of Medicine’s Department of Medical Education, and Sangeeta Tiwari, Ph.D., M.S., assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso, are co-investigators in this research project.  

Additionally, the grant provides an opportunity for two biomedical sciences graduate students to train in vaccine research that will address TB disparities in the Borderland region. 

Worldwide research of vaccines is significant because it builds on a body of research, similar to the recent COVID-19 vaccine research. 

Research conducted in TTUHSC El Paso’s four Centers of Emphasis focuses on conditions directly impacting Hispanic populations, including diabetes, cancer, infectious diseases and neurological disorders. University researchers also study health disparities, helping to meet health care challenges in the Borderland.  

MEDIA CONTACT:  

Veronique Masterson at news.ep@ttuhsc.edu 

Source: Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso