Torrelles has current projects in TB diagnostics/vaccine development and TB innate immunity
For Immediate Release
San Antonio, Texas (September 25, 2017) – Texas Biomedical Research Institute has added the expertise of a Tuberculosis (TB) researcher and scientist Dr. Jordi B. Torrelles. Dr. Torrelles joins the Texas Biomed team from The Ohio State University (OSU), where he started as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Larry S. Schlesinger, who is the current President of Texas Biomed. Dr. Torrelles advanced to become a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity at OSU before joining Texas Biomed.
Dr. Torrelles’ research is focused on the study of the human lung environment and its effect on the outcome of TB disease due to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) infection. He also aims to improve the diagnosis of susceptible and drug resistant TB in high burden areas.
TB is an infectious disease that kills 1.5 – 2 million people each year, or the equivalent of one person dying of TB every 21 seconds. According to the Centers for Disease Control, TB currently infects nearly one fourth of the world population. In fact, in United States TB kills 500 people a year. TB disease typically attacks the lungs and can ultimately lead to death if not treated properly. While TB, which is spread through the air, is curable, a person who goes untreated has the potential to infect 10 to 15 new people each year, according to the World Health Organization. And, drug resistant TB is a major concern as it becomes more prevalent and in some cases untreatable.
“Without TB diagnosis and therapy improvement, it is estimated that drug resistant TB will kill 75 million people and cost the global economy $16.7 trillion over the next 35 years,” Dr. Torrelles said.
Dr. Torrelles and his team of collaborators aim to develop a culture-based test to diagnose multi-, extensive- and extreme-drug resistant TB. He is working with partners on four continents to test this diagnostic approach. The hope is to reduce the current 56-80 days needed to determine TB drug susceptibility patterns to only 14 days or less, which will allow better therapies and reduce transmission.
Other TB diagnostic tests exist, the most commonly used is a specific staining and microscopy test that counts for how many bacteria are in a given sputum sample, which is a mixture of mucus and spit. According to Dr. Torrelles, this test is not very specific or sensitive, but it is used because of its low cost. Molecular diagnostics also exists that can diagnose TB in a few hours but these devices require specialized staff training, instrument calibration, and cartridge supplies that run between $17 and $125 in TB endemic and high burden areas worldwide.
“The machines are financed from the Global Bank funds, but the supply cartridge used for diagnosis is too expensive due to distribution costs, so these machines sit unused in boxes,” Dr. Torrelles explained.
LUNG MICROENVIRONMENT RESEARCH
Beyond the diagnosis of TB, Dr. Torrelles and his team aim to understand the impact of the human lung mucosa in TB pathogenesis. He and his team have found that there are enzymes in the human lung mucosa that modify the bacteria prior to infecting host cells, thus, potentially redefining the M.tb pathway of infection and disease outcome.
In one recent study, Dr. Torrelles’ team hypothesized that the current vaccine for TB called Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) may work better if it mimics the same changes that M.tb suffers in its cell wall upon contact with the human lung mucosa. Indeed, once exposed to lung mucosa, they found that the vaccine became much more effective.
“When we grow bacteria in vitro, we don’t account for the environment in the lungs or lung mucosa,” Dr. Torrelles explained. “A majority of vaccines fail because initial testing is in vitro or in vivo without considering what is happening in the human lungs. To understand why the current TB vaccine is not working, we need to first understand the relationship among the bacterium, the lung environment and the host cell.”
In this context, he and his team currently have a patented TB vaccine candidate, based on a selective biochemical removal of lipids from the bacterium cell wall, that mimics the modifications the bacteria suffers when it gets in contact with the human lung mucosa. This modified vaccine shows significantly greater protection in the mouse model and importantly a significant reduction in lung tissue damage, the hallmark of TB disease. Current studies are being scheduled in the Guinea pig model through the NIH/NIAID TB Vaccine Contract before nonhuman primate studies will begin prior to pre-clinical trials.
Most recently, Dr. Torrelles with colleagues from Albert Einstein Institute in NY, have also revealed that the interaction between two M.tb proteins, Rv2623 & Rv1747, regulates mycobacterial growth. Determining how these M.tb proteins regulate growth could help determine the mechanisms involved in latency and reactivation of mycobacterial growth in vivo, as well as the severity of TB disease.
Dr. TORRELLES BACKGROUND
Dr. Torrelles is originally from Catalonia, Spain. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry/ microbiology in 2003 from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. During his graduate studies, he moved to Fort Collins, Colorado to serve as a visiting scientist at Colorado State University. He finished his Ph.D. and became a research associate and lab manager before moving to The Ohio State University for his postdoctoral fellowship, where over the years he became independent and obtained the appointment of tenured Associate Professor.
Dr. Torrelles is a principal investigator or partner on eight current grant projects. He has patented three inventions related to methods and compositions for preventing reproductive and respiratory syndrome in pigs, as well as methods and compositions related to removal of lipids from the BCG vaccine.
He has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Parker B. Francis fellowship in pulmonary research, served as a grant and journal reviewer and co-chaired international workshops. He has 60 peer-reviewed publications including reviews and book chapters, been invited to speak frequently at national and international conferences, and has more than 130 published research abstracts presented as posters and/or oral communications at meetings.
Texas Biomed is one of the world’s leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to advancing health worldwide through innovative biomedical research. Texas Biomed partners with hundreds of researchers and institutions around the world to develop vaccines and therapeutics against viral pathogens causing AIDS, hepatitis, herpes, hemorrhagic fevers and parasitic diseases responsible for malaria and schistosomiasis. The Institute also has programs in the genetics of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, psychiatric disorders and other diseases. For more information on Texas Biomed, go to www.TxBiomed.org.