Leading the Fight Against Tuberculosis
W. Henry Boom, M.D., professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and University Hospitals Case Medical Center, vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine, and director of the Tuberculosis Research Unit (TBRU) at the School of Medicine, is on a mission to eradicate a disease that once appeared on the verge of extinction. In the early 1980s, when tuberculosis (TB) was thought to be disappearing, Dr. Boom found himself drawn to the immunology of the disease. He began his career as an infectious disease physician, but clinical and research fellowships at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital cemented his future in combating a disease that is once again on the rise.
In 1988, Dr. Boom’s fascination with the immunologic mechanisms of TB brought him to the School of Medicine that was already a leader in the study of the disease. In 1999 he assumed the directorship of the five-year old TBRU that had quickly gained prominence as an internationally recognized force in combating the world-wide TB epidemic.
Under Dr. Boom’s continuing leadership, the TBRU recently received a $27 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health, to continue its important work—it is the only unit of its kind in the United States to get such support.
“Renewal of this research program is a wonderful opportunity to bring together new colleagues in the United States, Uganda, and South Africa for TB research focused on how the infection is transmitted and why some people go on to develop active disease, whereas most contain the infection. These studies will impact development of new vaccines, diagnostic tests, and treatment for TB,” notes Dr. Boom.
Dr. Boom’s research efforts take him around the globe to work with this international consortium of physicians and research scientists engaged in the study of the genetics, immunology, microbiology, and epidemiology of this often fatal disease. Of particular importance are the clinical trials in TB-endemic countries where the disease is an enormous public health problem. In his own lab, Dr. Boom works collaboratively with Clifford V. Harding, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pathology, on basic studies of the immune mechanisms in humans to control Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the pathogen that causes TB infection, with a focus on the role of T-cells and antigens in protective immunity.
“This is a very exciting time in the fight against TB as politicians, public health officials, researchers, donor agencies, and foundations worldwide refocus their attention on the pandemic caused by this ageold pathogen—this will allow progress to be made in both preventing and treating TB,” comments Dr. Boom.