Tufts professor given award for research on tuberculosis
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 08:10
Bree Aldridge, assistant professor of molecular biology and microbiology and adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award this September.
The award, which Aldridge received for her research on tuberculosis, provides her with a $1.5 million grant with which to further her studies.
According to its website, NIH is a U.S. Department of Health agency that grants the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to scientists in the early stages of biomedical or behavioral research who approach their work in bold ways and have the potential to make large impacts in their fields. Recipients of the award are granted up to $300,000 annually for a five-year period depending on the needs of their budget. This year, a total of 41 researchers from around the country received the award.
Aldridge became eligible for the award after using a combination of biomedical, mathematical and engineering approaches to further our understanding of tuberculosis, a disease which affects about one third of the world’s population.
Aldridge explained that her studies aim to help improve treatments for tuberculosis by increasing knowledge about the disease. Currently, those infected with tuberculosis must endure a long, complicated process in order to regain health, Aldridge said.
“Even here in the U.S., drug treatment involves four different antibiotics for at least six months,” she said. “It’s hard for people to adhere to that therapy, and it’s not always effective.”
According to Aldridge, one of the ways that she and her lab partners seek to tackle this issue is by identifying why some strains of tuberculosis react differently to drugs than other strains.
“Not all bacteria are the same,” she said. “When somebody starts on drug treatment, some bacteria die quickly and other bacteria take much longer to kill, and that’s why drug treatment has to last so long.”
Aldridge explained that her lab watches cells grow and react to drugs under a microscope.
“We can see this and then quantify what is different about the bacteria,” she said.
Aldridge plans to use the five-year grant from the award to begin imaging live cells in order to allow her team to closely observe tuberculosis bacteria as they are treated with drugs.
She hopes that, with this information, her findings can help bring about translational outcomes that will eventually lead to shorter treatment processes for tuberculosis patients.
According to Dean of the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences Naomi Rosenberg, the grant will be a major asset to Aldridge.
“[It] makes a huge difference for a young faculty member because it’s five years of funding for the support of their lab, the research program and personnel that might be needed to conduct the research,” Rosenberg said. “This allows her quite a bit of stability.”
One of the main criteria for scientists hoping to receive the award is an ability to create novel approaches to high impact problems, according to the NIH website.
According to Rosenberg, this is exactly what Aldridge has been doing.
“She’s using tools that she brought from engineering that help her look at her problem, obviously tools from microbiology and tools from math that are required to actually analyze her data,” Rosenberg said. “I think she represents a kind of biomedical scientist that will be really important for the future.”
University President Anthony Monaco, who has also used multidisciplinary research approaches throughout his professional career, is excited by Aldridge’s receipt of the award and is proud of her accomplishment. He believes Aldridge’s work can be considered a paradigm shift in biomedical research.
“[Aldridge] is at the very pinnacle of [her] field in terms of peer esteem and excellence of [her] project,” Monaco told the Daily in an email.
Tufts is committed to hiring innovative faculty like Aldridge that will work towards solving worldwide problems and put Tufts at the forefront of scientific discovery, Monaco said.
“Winning this [award] signals to scientists at other research institutions that Tufts is a destination of choice to carry out this cutting edge research and to interact with like-minded colleagues,” he said. “Tufts is supporting groundbreaking scientific discoveries by hiring the best faculty we can and providing them with an environment and facilities that enable them to tackle difficult questions and be productive.”