Seattle BioMed Expands TB Program with Third Principal Investigator
Urdahl focuses on identifying strategies to develop more effective TB vaccine
SEATTLE, Aug. 25, 2010 - With one-third of the world's population infected with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (Seattle BioMed) continues to expand its TB research program to gain additional knowledge about the disease in order to develop much-needed new solutions. Today, the Institute announced the addition of a new principal investigator, Kevin Urdahl, M.D., Ph.D., an immunologist who studies how the host immune responses provide protection against TB.
Coming to Seattle BioMed from the University of Washington where he served as an Assistant Professor of Pediatric Infectious Disease, Urdahl is the third principal investigator in Seattle BioMed's four-year-old tuberculosis research program, joining David Sherman, Ph.D., director of Seattle BioMed's TB program, and Christoph Grundner, Ph.D., who joined Seattle BioMed last year.
"Kevin is first and foremost an immunologist whose expertise is distinct from what Christoph and I have, as we are both focused on the bacteria," said Sherman. "With Kevin on board, we now have someone coming at the problem from the other side - looking at it from the immune response in the host. It's expanding our view of tuberculosis from 180 to 360 degrees."
While much of Sherman's and Grundner's work is focused on discoveries that could potentially lead to improved, faster-acting drugs for TB, Urdahl has his sights set on identifying strategies that could contribute to the development of an effective TB vaccine. "There's been a TB vaccine since 1921 - called BCG - but it's not very effective," he explained. "In fact, despite having BCG, nearly two million people die from TB every year. So we need a better vaccine, and the biggest barrier to that is the lack of a fundamental understanding of what parts of the immune system provide protection against the disease."
Urdahl added that TB is a very successful pathogen that stays in the host for life. "Our belief is that if we can understand how the bacteria is able to gain such a foothold and evade the immune system, we can circumvent it," he said.
Urdahl earned his M.D. and Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, and completed both his pediatric residency and his infectious diseases fellowship at Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of Washington. While getting his medical degree, Urdahl developed an interest in global health. "But I really had a yearning to apply my Ph.D. in immunology," he said. "I did some work at an aboriginal health research center in northern Australia where I saw infectious problems, like TB and rheumatic fever. That experience confirmed that I should apply my knowledge of immunology to a problem of global importance, like TB."
Urdahl's experience in immunology will be put to good use at Seattle BioMed, which has a growing cohort of immunologists spanning the "big three" diseases - TB, HIV/AIDS and malaria.
The growth of Seattle BioMed's TB research program has been made possible, in part, due to a generous Paul G. Allen Family Foundation grant, which funded scientific recruitment, equipment and pilot projects. Awarded in 2008, the $5 million grant to Seattle BioMed included an initial $2 million grant, with an additional $3 million challenge grant, which inspired other private donors to get involved.
ABOUT SEATTLE BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE:
Seattle BioMed is the largest independent, non-profit organization in the US focused solely on infectious disease research. Our research is the foundation for new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics that benefit those who need our help most: the 14 million who will otherwise die each year from infectious diseases, including malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Founded in 1976, Seattle BioMed has nearly 325 staff members. By partnering with key collaborators around the globe, we strive to make discoveries that will save lives sooner. For more information, visit www.seattlebiomed.org.
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