Success Story

New FNLCR technical service supports tuberculosis research

Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, which cause TB. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

The Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research has initiated a new technical service offering, to support tuberculosis vaccine research efforts in nonhuman primate (NHP) model studies. As part of the laboratory’s Technical Services Program, the new service will be available to the external research community. To date, more than 100 partners from academic, industry, and nonprofit sectors have utilized services from the program.

According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 million people die from tuberculosis each year, and tuberculosis is especially lethal for people co-infected with HIV. People living with HIV have a 16 to 27 times greater risk of developing tuberculosis than those without HIV infection, and tuberculosis co-infection is the leading cause of death in HIV-infected individuals.

A vaccine, Bacille Calmette-Guerin, that has been available for nearly a century is widely used in pediatric vaccination in many parts of the world. While it is not particularly effective in preventing infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible for the disease, it does help prevent the development of active tuberculosis disease when vaccinated individuals become infected. Development of a more effective vaccine remains an urgent public health need, and NHP studies are the preferred model for preclinical evaluation of candidate vaccines.

The new service, which is offered by the Quantitative Molecular Diagnostics Core of the AIDS and Cancer Virus Program (ACVP), uses quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to measure levels of the DNA of M. tuberculosis in NHP research models. The service was specifically developed and validated for use in NHP studies of candidate M. tuberculosis vaccines. When used to support such studies, this assay can help to assess vaccine efficacy by measuring the bacterial burden.

“The new assay helps fill an unmet need in the evaluation of tuberculosis vaccines in nonhuman primate models, complementing other measures typically performed in such studies. While most of our assays are for retroviruses, not bacteria, given the global importance of HIV-tuberculosis co-infection, we are happy to provide this new assay to help support the research community in this high-priority area,” explained Jeff Lifson, MD, ACVP Director.

The assay is now available at cost to external researchers via the Technical Services Program. The ACVP already offers 10 services supporting simian immunodeficiency virus and HIV research, but the new service represents an exciting step to broaden the laboratory’s service offerings and leverage ACVP’s experience with infectious agents. None of the services offered through the Technical Services Program are commercially available through other entities.

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