March 26, 2007
Global Health Institute joins with India to combat HIV/TB
by Robin tricoles
Researchers at Emory’s Global Health Institute and the Emory Vaccine Center are collaborating with one of India’s premier research centers in a push to enhance the immune systems of people infected with both HIV and tuberculosis.
Located in New Delhi, the institute, known as the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, will provide state-of-the-art lab space for newly recruited Emory scientists and their ICGEB collaborators to form the Center for Global Vaccines.
“Our initial studies will focus on the basic aspects of the HIV/TB coinfection. There is an interesting interplay between HIV and TB,” said Rafi Ahmed, director of the Emory Vaccine Center. “In fact, the World Health Organization has just classified HIV/TB as a unique disease.”
It is estimated that one-third of the world’s 40 million people with HIV/AIDS are also infected with TB and that 90 percent of those with HIV die within months of contracting TB if they are not properly treated. However, finding effective treatments is growing more difficult as various strains of TB are becoming more widespread and more virulent, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and India.
“In terms of sheer numbers, India now has the largest number of HIV-infected people in the world, and 5.7 million of them have the HIV/TB coinfection,” Ahmed said. “The majority of people infected with HIV also have TB, which is endemic in India. Most people get primary TB as children, and the majority of them will live a healthy life and die of old age, not of TB. But when they get infected with HIV and they already have TB, their immune system becomes compromised, and the TB reactivates.”
Although a vaccine exists to prevent TB, it can be used in only limited circumstances. Thus, Emory and the ICGEB will be focusing on developing a therapeutic vaccine that can be used more widely; that is, one that can be given to those people already infected with HIV/TB. “We want to tackle very big problems, and this is a very big problem,” Ahmed said. “This is very big science.”