Babak Javid, from School of Medicine, Tsinghua University was recently appointed an Investigator of the Wellcome Trust with a project titled “Molecular characterisation of antibiotic tolerance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis”.
The research focus of the Dr. Javid laboratory is on tuberculosis pathophysiology. Tuberculosis (TB), caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is still the world’s most important pathogen, killing 1.8 million people in 2016 – more than any other single pathogen. It is also still the one of biggest infectious disease in China, with approximately one million new cases per year.
The 12.2 million RMB grant (of which ~ 10 million RMB are direct costs to Tsinghua, with the remainder funding a collaboration with the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam) will be used to understand why it takes so long to treat TB. Currently, the shortest course of treatment for TB is 6 months, and involves taking hundreds of multiple antibiotic pills. One of the reasons it takes so long to cure TB is due to the effects of antibiotic tolerance. Anti-TB antibiotics kill most, but not all, of the bacteria, even without drug-resistance, and it takes a very long time to eradicate the few “tolerant” bacteria. Understanding how mycobacteria become tolerant to antibiotics will allow us to develop treatments that may be able to cure TB much more rapidly.
The Dr. Javid group have recently discovered that one of the mechanisms that cause tolerance in TB is that mycobacteria make frequent mistakes when making new proteins, termed mistranslation. With the support of the Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, Babak Javid and his team will aim to find out precisely how bacteria regulate the mistranslation rate, and also identify other mechanisms that cause tolerance in TB in mouse models of infection and from TB patients.
According to the Wellcome Trust, Investigator Awards enable independent researchers with a compelling research vision to tackle the most important questions about health and science. The Wellcome Trust appointed 32 Investigators in 2017. Most Investigators are based in universities and institutions across the UK, but as a global charitable foundation, awards have also been made to researchers from Brazil and Ireland, and now China. Dr. Javid is the first Investigator Awardee to be based in China since the scheme was established in 2010.