On February 4, 2013, Dr. William R. Jacobs, Jr., was awarded the seventh annual Marshall S. Horwitz, M.D. Faculty Prize for Research Excellence. Dr. Jacobs delivered his prize lecture, "Unmasking the Houdini Traits of Mycobacterium tuberculosis Persistence in the Presence of Drugs and Immune Effectors," to an enthusiastic audience in Robbins Auditorium.
Tuberculosis is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB). It ranks second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest worldwide killer caused by as single infectious agent. According to the World Health Organization, 1.4 million people died from tuberculosis in 2011.
MTB infects people through inhalation; it can persist as a latent infection for decades, causing serious illness or death when MTB starts to multiply and the infection reactivates. Dr. Jacobs aptly compared MTB to the master escape artist Harry Houdini. Despite the availability of several drugs that can kill it, MTB has managed death-defying acts that complicate efforts to treat those infected. Its notorious ability to mutate into drug-resistant strains poses a major global health problem.
Considering its deceptive nature, it's appropriate that the scientist dubbed the "TB Terminator" by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is tackling MTB. In his talk, Dr. Jacobs described his team's strategy in confronting MTB—particularly those MTB strains that are proving resistant to most of the standard anti-TB drugs. Working in a lab that overlooks a former TB sanatorium, he and his colleagues are developing vaccines to prevent disease, diagnostic tools to detect it, and drugs to treat infection.
As part of those efforts, his team is systematically knocking out every MTB gene to find genes that are vital for MTB's survival and therefore might be good targets for drugs aimed at killing the microbe. His lab's diagnostic work focuses on rapidly detecting small numbers of MTB in clinical sputum samples and pinpointing the drugs to which they're susceptible.
The Horwitz Prize was established at Einstein in memory of beloved Einstein faculty and renowned scientist Dr. Marshall S. Horwitz, who passed away in 2005.
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