LabTV: Curious About Tuberculosis
Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins
One reason that I decided to share these LabTV profiles is that they put a human face on the amazingly wide range of NIH-supported research being undertaken every day in labs across the country. So far, we’ve met young scientists pursuing basic, translational, and clinical research related to the immune system, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the brain’s natural aging process. Today, we head to Boston to visit a researcher who has set her sights on a major infectious disease challenge: tuberculosis, or TB.
Bree Aldridge, PhD, an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, runs a lab that’s combining microbiology and bioengineering in an effort to streamline treatment for TB, which leads to more than 2 million deaths worldwide every year . Right now, people infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis—the microbe that causes TB—must take a combination of drugs for anywhere from six to nine months. When I was exposed to TB as a medical resident, I had to take a drug for a whole year. These lengthy regimens raise the risk that people will stop taking the drugs prematurely or that an opportunistic strain of M. tuberculosis will grow resistant to the therapy. By gaining a better basic understanding of both M. tuberculosis and the cells it infects, Aldridge and her colleagues hope to design therapies that will fight TB with greater speed and efficiency.
Aldridge is a wonderful role model for young people considering a career in biomedical research. As a kid growing up in Tucson, AZ, Aldridge wasn’t really into science, but she was highly creative with a knack for identifying patterns. Eventually, she developed an interest in math, which drew her into fun stuff like extracurricular math and science competitions. Throughout her graduate studies and now as a principal investigator, she has continued to pair her creative and analytic skills in impressive ways.For example, in 2013, she won an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, which supports exceptionally creative, early career researchers in their pursuit of innovative, high-impact projects.
While she may be a rising star, Aldridge will be the first to tell you that science works best when it is a collaborative venture. For example, as part of her TB project, she’s reaching out to researchers at other institutions across the Boston area. Another thing she’s discovered is that while scientific research can be incredibly rewarding, it’s important to strike a happy balance between one’s work life and personal life.
 TB Elimination: Now is the Time, 2014 November 5 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Aldridge Lab (Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston)
Science Careers (National Institute of General Medical Sciences/NIH)
Careers Blog (Office of Intramural Training/NIH)