CDI’s Gengenbacher Co-Leads Workshop on Dangerous Meningitis Variety of TB   

CDI’s Gengenbacher Co-Leads Workshop on Dangerous Meningitis Variety of TB

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Tuberculous is one of the ongoing global scourges, with an estimated 1.3 million dead from the pathogen in 2022 alone. But among its many permutations is perhaps its most stubbornly dangerous variety, tuberculous meningitis (TBM), which is the infection of the membranes (meninges) of the brain and spinal cord, causing deadly inflammation. Indeed, TBM is the most devastating form of TB, affecting mostly children and leading to permanent disability and death in many cases, according to experts.

Scientists are trying to better understand this aspect of the global fight against TB. One of them is Martin Gengenbacher, Ph.D., associate member of the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI).

Gengenbacher recently co-organized a workshop on tuberculous meningitis (TBM) just ahead of the international “Tuberculosis: The Host-Pathogen Interface” conference at the Keystone Resort in Keystone, Colo.

The workshop was entitled, “Bridging pre-clinical and clinical studies in severe and disseminated tuberculosis,” and included nearly three dozen experts from across the world. Gengenbacher worked with experts and support from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to set up the workshop.

The full-day workshop, held March 24, provided updates on: recent work in preclinical models of disseminated TB; biomarkers that might be easily targeted for clinical trials, or to be valuable for prognostics; pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic studies for metabolic responses to existing treatments and compounds; knowledge gaps and research priorities; and next scientific steps.

The researchers thus pointed the way toward a “road map” to better study this variety of the disease - and provide hope for the future.

Gengenbacher has studied Mycobacteria including tuberculosis for most of his career. In 2021 he was awarded $6.4 million from the NIH to pursue an innovative new TB vaccine concept. Since the only TB vaccine available, Bacille Calmette-Guérin, or BCG, is very unreliable, Gengenbacher and team have proposed to improve BCG by engineering it to stimulate the development and communication of B cells, an important part of the immune system. With this strategy, the researchers are aiming to develop a second-generation TB vaccine that would provide reliable and durable protection from new infections and can even help to cure existing TB infections by complementing antibiotic therapy.

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