Rutgers New Jersey Medical School will coordinate a worldwide effort to stop one of the most deadly infectious diseases from spreading

Rutgers New Jersey Medical School will receive $20 million over five years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to coordinate research being conducted in eight nations on tuberculosis (TB) control and prevention.

The research will be done through the TB-RePORT (Regional Prospective Observational Research in Tuberculosis) International (TBRI) program that was established in 2012 to accelerate research and development for TB control and prevention. RePORT networks exist in and are funded by Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, and South Africa and will soon include Uganda, bringing together experts in TB research, including clinicians and scientists, from nations hardest hit by TB to collaborate and share information about the disease.

The World Health Organization estimates there were 10.6 million people with TB cases worldwide in 2021. Nearly 7 percent of those people were living with HIV, with the largest concentration in southeast Asia and Africa. Testing and treatment of the disease became more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has slowed progress in prevention and treatment.

The consortium provides access to populations in Africa, Asia and South America, a common protocol of clinical and data standards, regional biorepositories with well-characterized specimens and a network of specialized laboratories. “Given its scope, the consortium has the capacity to study critically important outcomes of M. tuberculosis infection and TB disease with sufficient statistical power and generalizability,” said Jerrold J. Ellner, director of the coordinating center and a professor of medicine and director of research innovation at the Center for Emerging Pathogens at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “For example, we will study diagnostic biomarkers that will help predict individual TB treatment outcomes or if someone exposed to TB will themselves develop TB. These tools will help individualize therapeutic decisions and targeting of preventive measures to those likely to benefit.”

Since its inception, RePORT has become a leading global TB research consortium for observational and biomarker studies, encompassing 32 study sites and 13,534 participants. Contributions have included clinical and epidemiologic studies of the interaction of TB with HIV, diabetes mellitus and malnutrition as well as the discovery of biomarkers for adverse treatment outcomes and risk of progression.

“There are critical regional differences in TB globally,” Ellner said. “The frequency of drug resistance and HIV infection are well-known variables, but immunity in the host and pathogenicity of the bacillus also vary based on genetics.  To control TB globally, we need to determine whether new tools are generalizable or may differ according to region. TBRI is uniquely positioned to make this determination.  The role of the coordinating center is to support and facilitate the investigators in the network and to assure that this invaluable global resource achieves its vision.”

Other Rutgers members of the coordinating center include co-investigators Padmini Salgame and Evan Johnson, Francesca Escaleira (administrative director) David Hom (director of operations), Audrey Mioli (Program Manager), Daphne Martin-Gnanadason (program consultant) and Ann Tufariello (regulatory manager). Other U.S. Institutional partners and lead investigators include Timothy Sterling, Co-Program Director, (Vanderbilt University Medical Center), Sue Siminski (Frontier Sciences Foundation) and Amita Gupta, Co-PI, and Robert Bollinger (Johns Hopkins University). International Partners include Mark Hatherill, Co-PI, and Tom Scriba (University of Cape Town, South Africa); Bruno Andrade, Co-PI, and Valeria Rolla (Fiotech/Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil), Sonali Sarkar (Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, India), Gerhard Walzl (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa) and Marissa Alejandria (University of the Philippines – Manila, Philippines).

Research reported in this publication was supported by NIAID under Award Number U01AI174268. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.