By Robert Gracy, PhD, CEO of Texas Biomedical Research Institute
Now in its eighth decade of existence, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, has a mission “to improve the health of our global community through innovative biomedical research.” Texas Biomed has a breadth and depth of scientific inquiry coupled with an unparalleled collection of research resources, which in combination provides its researchers unique capabilities. Texas Biomed also views partnering with Research!America – a strong advocate for growing our country’s investment in biomedical funding – as retaining an effective ally in maintaining and eventually strengthening the backbone of our country’s preeminent position in the biomedical research field.
In the Department of Genetics, researchers are examining the genes related to complex diseases such as cardiovascular illness, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, macular degeneration, behavioral and psychiatric disorders, arthritis and osteoporosis – hoping to ultimately provide the foundation of knowledge that can lead to better treatment of these devastating illnesses and to personalize care according to the genetic profile of each patient. Continue reading →
By William (Bill) R. Brinkley, Ph.D., TAMEST’s 2012 President
Sometimes you find luck sitting by your side at the most opportune of moments. For example, what would you do if you suddenly found yourself seated next to a key member of the U.S. Congress on a two and a half hour flight to Washington, D.C.? Be prepared, it could happen to you!
If you are a frequent traveler like me, you probably prefer to read, daydream or sleep on most flights. But what would you do if you suddenly recognized that your seat mate was a VIP—say, a key member of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives? You might recognize it as a terrific opportunity to put in a good word for particular issues of great importance to you or society. Say for instance, an increase in funding for biomedical research or pending legislation for another cause that might impact your future and that of your co-workers and colleagues.
This actually happened to me a few years ago as a biomedical researcher and president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) advocating for a campaign to double the funding of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At the time, I was traveling to Washington, D.C. frequently to visit key members of the legislature to encourage support for the “doubling” as it came to be known. One key member of the House of Representatives, Congressman Tom DeLay was thought to be a hopeless holdout—but a key individual to get on our side. As the Majority Whip, DeLay earned the nickname “The Hammer” for his enforcement of party discipline in close votes and his reputation for wreaking political vengeance on opponents. After making numerous unsuccessful attempts to get an audience with DeLay, I finally gave up! Continue reading →
An article in the most recent issue of The Scientist highlighted the importance of affordable diagnostics for global health. Although scientific advances have improved treatment options for many global diseases, a lack of effective, low-cost diagnostics hinders the health of many in the developing world. For example, medicines to treat HIV and tuberculosis have been life-saving for many individuals, but they can cause liver damage and patients on these medications must be monitored. However, the primary test for liver damage requires expensive equipment that is simply not available in low-income countries. To solve this problem, a Massachusetts biotech company, Diagnostics For All, developed a 10 cent paper-based test that can diagnose liver damage with a single drop of blood.
Other U.S.-based companies are working on similar low-cost diagnostics. In Texas, Global BioDiagnostics Corp is developing a more effective test for tuberculosis that will cost just $5. Both of these projects are excellent models for incorporating the idea of access into the research process and designing products that can actually be utilized in low-resource settings. However, there is often not enough money for companies to develop these kinds of products. In fact, a principal investigator at PATH says that “the problem [with low-cost diagnostics] is almost always funding.” Therefore, it is crucial to increase funding for affordable diagnostics. Not only would increased investment support these U.S.-based companies, but the end products could truly transform health care in the developing world.
Update: Another article, published in The Scientist on January 10, also addresses the urgent need for better diagnostics in resource-limited countries. In addition to making diagnostics more affordable, truly successful new diagnostics must also be “sensitive, specific, user-friendly, rapid, equipment-free and deliverable” and these considerations must be built into the R&D process. Overcoming these research challenges hinges not only on additional funding, but collaboration between research companies, the healthcare industry and local governments. Several Product Development Partnerships (PDPs) are leading the charge in these kinds of innovative collaborations. For example, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), a PDP based in Geneva, Switzerland, is working with manufacturers, health organizations and ministries of health and developing diagnostics from the initial design to the operational research phase to determine the diagnostic’s efficacy in a low resource setting. The importance of these kinds of new tests, which will result in more appropriate treatment plans that can save lives and money, cannot be overlooked.
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
As reported in the Washington Post, the number of West Nile virus cases in the U.S. is on the rise. Traditionally a disease that affects people in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, 48 states in the U.S. have reported cases in 2012 alone. Nearly 2,000 cases and 87 deaths, including one Wednesday in DC, have been reported overall. The West Nile virus, a neglected tropical disease or NTD, can cause flu-like symptoms or, in severe cases, even brain damage.
Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, director of the Texas-based product development partnership Sabin Vaccine Institute, recently wrote a New York Times op-ed addressing the increasing thread of West Nile right here in the U.S., “Tropical Disease: The New Plague of Poverty.” As Hotez points out, West Nile is just one of several NTDs that have a presence in the United States. Dengue fever, another virus transmitted through mosquitoes, has been reported in Texas, Florida and Hawaii. A recent estimate finds that 300,000 individuals in the U.S. have Chagas disease, an infection transmitted through insects that can cause heart failure and even sudden death. These NTDs pose an immediate threat to the health of Americans, particularly in impoverished areas of the South where poorer sanitation and drainage systems allow NTD “carriers” to thrive.
NTDs can go undocumented for long periods of time, can be extremely debilitating and have inflicted a large toll on peoples’ health and economic stability around the world. NTDs paint an increasingly troubling picture for American health. Toxic and ineffective, or in some cases no treatments, exist for many of these NTDs, and better surveillance and monitoring is desperately needed. With little financial incentive, private companies are reluctant to invest in this research. However, there is hope. Federally funded researchers at the National Institutes of Health have identified a new drug that has the potential to treat Chagas disease. Additional clinical trials will determine its safety and efficacy for widespread use. Bloomberg recently reported that another PDP, the Dengue Vaccine Initiative, has developed four dengue vaccines that are currently undergoing clinical trials. Continuing to fund this type of research and development is critical to ensuring that the promise of these vaccines becomes a reality.
In an effort to raise awareness about the importance of funding for NTD research, Research!America hosted a joint forum this summer entitled “Global Health Research and Development and the Hidden Burden of Neglected Tropical Diseases in Texas.” Additional support, including robust federal funding, will result in new prevention and treatment methods that are urgently needed not only to improve the health of individuals around the world, but right here in our own backyards. Please let your congressional representative know that even in today’s tough economic environment, funding for global health and NTD research must be a higher national priority.
A video of Research!America’s Texas forum on neglected tropical diseases is available here.