Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacilli causing tuberculosis, poses a formidable challenge to biomedical researchers as a consequence of its ability to evade the immune system, development of drug resistance and the failure of vaccines such as BCG to adequately induce long-term protective immunity.
Today, approximately one and fourth century after the discovery of the causative agent of tuberculosis by Robert Koch, it is estimated that as much as one third of the entire human population on the planet is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Although most of these infected individuals harbor latent disease which is clinically silent, the global reservoir of active tuberculosis remains enormous with approximately 8-9 million new cases of active disease and two million deaths attributable to this infection each year.
The history of tuberculosis care at Einstein starts in 1954 with the opening of the Van Etten hospital, a pristine and peaceful setting for long term care of tuberculosis patients. Van Etten hospital has established several new protocols for the treatment of tuberculosis patients, most notably the eventual elimination of the face masks which had heightened patients’ fear and isolation, and the establishment of the first Home Care Program for tuberculosis in New York City. Tuberculosis research at Einstein was established by Dr. Barry Bloom who has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of immune responses to mycobacterial diseases including tuberculosis and leprosy. He is currently at Harvard University as Distinguished Service Professor and Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health. Currently, the nucleus of the tuberculosis research at Einstein is the laboratory of Dr. William Jacobs Jr. who pioneered the genetic techniques to manipulate mycobacterial genome to make mutations and transfer genes.
To succeed in the fight against the global tuberculosis pandemic, it is clear that a multi-disciplinary collaboration bringing together all of the resources of modern research and medicine. At the Albert Einstein College of Medicine there are a number of clinicians and labs focused on TB research. The EINSTEIN TB research investigators, basic and applied, research in a wide variety of areas including understanding the mechanisms of pathogenesis and immune defense, drug development, the design of safer and more effective vaccines, development of diagnostics, drug resistance including MDR- and XDR-TB, and TB/HIV co-infection.