IDRI - Infectious Disease Research Institute

TB Cases in Local School Stir College Memories


Recent reports of tuberculosis cases in a local high school dredged up memories of a time this disease paid a visit to the college I attended …

Word spread through the hallways of the dorm: “Lacy’s sick, and she won’t be back for a while.”

We assumed that our friend, who’d gone home for a few days, had the flu or a stomach bug.

But Lacy, who lived directly across the hall from me during our senior year at Mississippi University for Women, didn’t return very quickly – in fact, it was weeks before we saw her again.

Diagnosed with active tuberculosis, Lacy was sent to Memphis to recuperate at a hospital, isolated from friends and family during what should have been one of the best times of her life. TB took its toll on Lacy – and on the people around her.

Those of us who lived in close proximity found ourselves at the county health department on a regular basis – for TB skin tests and chest x-rays. Like many young people in the U.S., I’d taken my health for granted, and, all of a sudden, I realized I was vulnerable. Luckily, no one else developed active TB, and Lacy eventually returned – to school and to good health. (more…)

TB Inspired Shorter Hemlines, Recliners

cure chair

Yesterday’s tuberculosis “cure chair” inspired today’s recliner.

Tuberculosis is a disease that has plagued mankind throughout history. The mark it has left on our society is usually quantified in the number of people infected and the number of deaths it has caused.

What are not generally discussed are changes in societal norms that were a either a direct result of or due in part to the discovery that TB was caused by contagious bacteria. As we reflect on World TB Day (March 24), the following are some interesting changes in society that were brought on by tuberculosis.

In previous centuries, spitting in public was a common occurrence. “No Spitting” public service announcements were distributed on flyers and run in newspapers, culminating in some communities banning the practice altogether.

Women’s clothing fashion also changed once spit was identified as a source of infection. Dresses of the day were long and dragged the ground as women walked through the streets. Not wanting to drag their clothing through potentially infectious spit in the streets, hemlines were raised leading to shorter dresses and skirts. (more…)

Marching Towards VL Elimination

Team of scientists in icddrbBangladesh shares more than history and geography with neighbors, India and Nepal. It also shares the world’s highest burden of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) or kala-azar as it is locally known. All three countries have pledged to an ambitious kala-azar elimination program, which targets reduction in incidence to 1 in 10, 000 by the end of 2015.

Bangladesh is confidently marching towards elimination of this scourge, which discriminately hits the poor and the dispossessed. I just spent a week in Bangladesh with IDRI collaborators icddr,b, and Dr. Dinesh Mondal. Dr. Mondal and his group is spearheading the VL elimination campaign in Bangladesh. During my visit, I was impressed at how field logistics and lab capabilities were used by a young team with intense focus and energy.

Scientists in icddrAll along, IDRI’s diagnostics have played a vital role in enabling this work. Armed with our rK39 rapid diagnostic test and robustly contributing to our new generation diagnostics, including tools for screening and ascertaining cure, Dr. Mondal’s group has been an important collaborator in the Indian sub-continent.

I learned much from the icddr,b about the VL disease and its impact. I came away impressed by the indomitable “Bangla” spirit, which was all around me – defying political unrest to retrieve valuable samples or simply turning up to work every single day despite a political lock-down that threatened violence on the streets.

Those young scientists are true Bengal tigers – inspiring me with courage and commitment. I came home with no doubt that Bangladesh can be the first country to eliminate the prehistoric scourge of kala-azar from their soil. And from IDRI, we express our gratitude for a very important collaboration and are very happy that tools developed by us will help them reach the goal.

Posted by Aarthy Vallur, Ph.D., Scientist I



No More Stereotypes: We Can All Be Scientists


IDRI’s Jeff Guderian pokes fun at the stereotype of the “mad scientist.”

Check out the latest research from the University of Washington. It confirms what we all thought: the images and stereotypes about scientists deter girls from wanting to pursue careers in this area. When scientists are portrayed as geeky and socially inept, girls lose interest regardless of whether the scientists portrayed are male or female. This paints a more complicated picture in how to address the serious under-representation of women in computer science and engineering. We need to get rid of these outdated and false stereotypes.

Although the study concerned computer science and engineers, it can equally apply to other branches of science. The conclusions of this study doesn’t seem surprising to me, since people want to work in interesting and rewarding environments, although it is nice to see it in a published research article.

There have been efforts to dispel these myths, one of my favorites being “This is what a scientist looks like,” but progress  is slow. For example, recent blockbuster films do nothing to dispel these myths, with biopics about Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking.

We would love for the media to represent us as we are – a varied and complex group of human beings, with a powerful curiosity that leads us to ask questions and want to understand things. Check out some of IDRI’s profiles of our scientists in all fields to see how different we are .

And yes – girls – come and join us – being a scientist is AWESOME!

Posted by Tanya Parish, Ph.D., Vice President, Drug Discovery



From the Field: Philippines Leprosy Project

cebuphiNOTE: IDRI scientists often travel to meet with partners/collaborators or to initiate projects in the field. Dr. Malcolm Duthie is working on a newly-funded leprosy project in the Philippines.

This week I have the privilege of visiting with partners in Cebu, Philippines, to initiate a project recently awarded funding from Novartis Global Foundation.

This multi-faceted project is centered on regular evaluation of leprosy patients and their household members by clinical examination as well as integrating tests of their immune response cebuphilinto this process. This will enable us to determine the acceptability and feasibility of testing in current settings, advancing toward the longer term goal of using tests to facilitate the streamlined referral of suspected patients to leprosy experts.

The need for such advances is evident when the history of the study volunteers is revealed, with many having had symptoms for prolonged periods of time before being properly diagnosed. In addition, the difficulties that many people endure in order to have their families attend the clinic highlights the need for simplified outreach programs in the continued battle toward elimination of leprosy.

Posted by Malcolm Duthie, Ph.D., Senior Scientist/Principal Investigator

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