Sunhee Lee Receives Award to Study Mechanisms of Tuberculosis-Induced Cell Death

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January 10, 2011

Sunhee Lee, PhD, Director of the DHVI Laboratory of Mycobacteria, has received a grant to study the effect of mycobacterial infections such as M. Tuberculosis (MTB) on cell death and host immune responses.  Over a third of the world’s population is infected with TB and each year, there are almost 2 million TB-related deaths worldwide.  The current therapeutic vaccine for TB, called BCG, may prevent complications from TB in children, but offers little protection against infection and disease in adults. 

The goal of this study is to understand the genetic basis for how pathogenic mycobacteria such as MTB manipulate cell death by preventing macrophages from killing off infected host cells.  In previous studies Dr. Lee and her colleagues have identified several genes responsible for inhibiting macrophage cell-death.  With the support of this grant, they will determine whether these genes also have an effect on the virulence of MTB infection and whether they affect immunogenicity.  Another goal of the study is to identify the key genetic components of mycobacterium virulence.  This work may lead to improvements in the efficacy of current mycobacterial vaccines and could potentially identify new targets for TB therapies.