EDINBURG (Jan. 15, 2008)—Twenty-one months after the opening of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) Medical Research Division at Edinburg, a dozen research scientists are conducting studies in the state-of-the-art building, including a team led by microbiologist Subramanian Dhandayuthapani, Ph.D., known by his colleagues as Dr. Pani.
In 2007, Dr. Pani and colleagues authored a paper in the journal Frontiers in Biosciences shining new light on the molecular basis of tuberculosis (TB). The team’s findings offer clues as to how TB may lie dormant in the body for years in infected individuals before reactivating. New understanding of this latency capacity could lead to new therapies for TB, which is important because emerging strains today are resistant to multiple drugs.
“The paper addresses the stress signaling mechanism in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB in humans,” Dr. Pani said. “TB can activate after years of lying low. In studying how this latency is controlled, we found previously unreported signaling factors that accomplish this. The goal is to further study these factors and use this information to our advantage to develop anti-TB chemotherapeutics.”
TB remains a major public health problem in several parts of the world. An estimated 8 million people contract the infection annually worldwide and 2 million die per year. “Multiple-drug-resistant TB and extensively drug-resistant TB pose serious threats to humankind,” Dr. Pani said. “TB is a significant problem in the Lower Rio Grande Valley region of Texas, where the RAHC is located, particularly in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.”
The prevalence rate of TB in these two counties is consistently higher than in the other 252 Texas counties, according to statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services. TB patients in the two counties accounted for 10 percent of the 1,535 TB patients in Texas in 2005, according to figures provided by Dr. Pani.
Because bacteria in the latent stage are resistant to antibiotics, treating latent TB is impossible. “The molecular mechanism behind the dormant state of TB is considered key to the development of novel therapy for TB,” Dr. Pani reiterated.
Dr. Pani’s studies contribute to the understanding of this important phenomenon and his group conducts research to develop better diagnostic tools and new drugs. Development of genetically engineered vaccines to tuberculosis and determining the immune mechanisms that make diabetes patients more susceptible to TB are the other important research projects under way in Dr. Pani’s lab.
Recently, TB research at the RAHC attracted a visiting scholar from China. Rong Jianrong, M.D., joined Dr. Pani’s group and is conducting research on the disease-causing mechanisms of TB. Dr. Jianrong is spending six months in Dr. Pani’s lab, and his research is fully supported by a visiting fellowship from the Shanxi Scholarship Council of China.
“This is an international scholar who has come to the RAHC to learn about TB,” said Leonel Vela, M.D., MPH, regional dean of the RAHC. “It is noteworthy that Dr. Pani’s research is now receiving international attention. Dr. Pani is a major research asset at the Edinburg RAHC.”
Dr. Pani is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, part of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences of the UT Health Science Center. In 2006, he became the first researcher to locate full time and permanently to Edinburg and the Medical Research Division of the RAHC.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields.