TTUHSC El Paso scientist receives $2.6 million NIH grant for tuberculosis research


For more than a century, El Paso has been a haven for people suffering from tuberculosis. It will soon become the home of groundbreaking research preventing debilitating disease. Texas Tech University Health Science Center El Paso infectious disease researcher Subramanian Dhandayuthapani has been awarded a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate tuberculosis. The announcement was made ahead of World Tuberculosis Day, which is celebrated every year on March 24.

Known as Dr. Pani on Campus, the five-year research fellowship will explore the development of new vaccines to prevent tuberculosis, which affects more than 10 million people worldwide each year.

We are very proud of Dr. Pani’s remarkable achievement in receiving an NIH R01 grant for his research on tuberculosis. This transformative grant will support the revolutionary work of Dr. Bani and his team to improve our understanding of this infectious disease and to develop new preventive vaccines for tuberculosis. The impact of this research will address health disparities in disadvantaged communities along the US-Mexico border. We look forward to the progress his research will bring to the Borderplex community and beyond.”

Richard Lange, MD, MBA, President, TTUHSC El Paso

The oldest and most widely requested funding sources for R01 grant applications from the National Institutes of Health are highly competitive. The success rate is as low as 10%, which means that only a small portion of applicants succeed in being funded. As evidence of their importance, R01 grants often establish a framework for best practices or standards of care within the healthcare profession.

Tuberculosis is a highly contagious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, primarily affecting the lungs. It is a major public health concern, with the World Health Organization classifying it as the 13th leading cause of death worldwide and the leading cause of a single infectious agent, with 10.6 million men, women and children affected by the disease. The emergence of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis has made treatment more difficult, underlining the need for new drugs and treatments.

Tuberculosis is a serious public health problem in El Paso County and in disadvantaged communities along the US-Mexico border. According to the Texas Department of Health Services, the incidence of tuberculosis in El Paso County in 2020 was 2.7 cases per 100,000 people, higher than the state average of 1.9 cases per 100,000 people and the national average of 2.3 cases per 100,000 people. the people. The incidence of tuberculosis in border counties of Texas was 2.8 cases per 100,000 people in 2020.

Working in collaboration with Shrikanth Gadad, Ph.D. , M.Sc. and Jessica Chacon, Ph.D. The work will make use of the latest advances in genomics, immunology, and bioinformatics. Their focus is on developing the new generation of BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) vaccines. These serums contain a weakened strain of Mycobacterium bovis, which is related to the bacterium that causes human tuberculosis. When given, the vaccine stimulates the immune system to recognize and fight similar bacteria in the future, thus providing protection against tuberculosis infection.

This is the second grant Dr. Pani has received from the National Institutes of Health for research in this area. The first, a $492,258 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, was awarded in 2021.

“Our research on developing a tuberculosis vaccine is not only about finding new treatments, but also improving health outcomes for patients around the world,” said Dr. Bani. “By identifying new targets and developing new therapies, we can help reduce the burden of this disease. I am honored to receive this NIH R01 grant, and I am excited about the potential impact our research can have on the prevention of this disease.”

Dr. Bani is also a professor at TTUHSC El Paso’s Center for Infectious Disease Emphasis in the Department of Molecular and Translational Medicine. The Center provides critical resources and expertise to support Dr. Pani’s work, including access to patient populations and advanced research techniques. In turn, his research also contributes to the center’s broader mission to address health disparities and improve health outcomes for Hispanics in the region.

Collaboration between focus centers and with other institutions, community organizations, and stakeholders is essential in addressing the complex health issues faced by Latinos in the area. Working together, researchers develop innovative approaches to healthcare that have a significant impact on community health. With a shared commitment to improving equity and health outcomes, TTUHSC El Paso Focus Centers demonstrate the power of collaboration in making meaningful progress in addressing health disparities and improving the lives of those we serve.

The new vaccine has the potential to protect against other viral infections — it’s designed to work in a nonspecific way, which means it helps the immune system fight off any viruses it encounters. This is an exciting development because it means the vaccine could have a broader public health impact beyond simply preventing tuberculosis.

Moreover, the vaccine has shown potential for treating bladder cancer. Researchers have discovered that the vaccine can stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells in the bladder. This is important because bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the United States, and current treatments can have debilitating side effects. If successful in clinical trials, the vaccine could provide a more effective and less invasive treatment option for patients with bladder cancer.

The Borderplex region, which stretches across western Texas, southern New Mexico, and northern Mexico, is home to a large number of individuals at risk of contracting tuberculosis due to high rates of poverty, immigration, and other factors. Funding for Dr. Pani’s research will not only benefit this community, but also contribute to the global effort to combat tuberculosis and improve the health of populations around the world.

Students who attend TTUHSC El Paso will have the unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience by working on the project alongside Dr. Bani and his team. While the scholarship is entirely for research, the opportunity will still be available to students of the Foster School of Medicine and Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The opportunity to work on such an impactful project is invaluable to students looking to advance their education and career in the medical field.

About Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso

TTUHSC El Paso is the only health sciences center on the US-Mexico border serving 108 historically underserved West Texas counties. It is an organization dedicated to serving Hispanics, preparing the next generation of healthcare heroes, 48% of whom are Hispanic and often first-generation students.

TTUHSC El Paso was founded to focus on the unique health care and educational needs of our Borderplex community. In 2023, TTUHSC El Paso celebrates its tenth anniversary as an independent university within the Texas Tech University System. Within a decade, the university has graduated more than 2,000 physicians, nurses, and researchers, and will soon add dentists to its graduates.

Disclaimer: The research reported in this media release was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01AI175837. The content is the responsibility of the Texas Tech University El Paso Health Science Center and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.


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