Updated on 2 May 2012
Dr Gyanu Lamichhane, Microbial geneticist at Johns Hopkins Center for Tuberculosis Research
Microbial geneticist Dr Gyanu Lamichhane of the Johns Hopkins Center for Tuberculosis Research is one of the foremost authority in tuberculosis reseach in the world. He has received many awards, including the $1.5 million New Innovator Award-2011, and a grant worth $100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2009 and has also been featured as one of the 36 best and brightest in America by Esquire magazine.
Dr Lamichhane discovered the key role of enzyme L, D-transpeptidase in forming chemical linkages inside the protective cell wall in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible for TB diseases. Dr Lamichhane, in an interview with BioSpectrum, speaks about his research work and on the progress of TB research in India.
Can you tell us about the tuberculosis-related research activities going on in your institute?
There are numerous researchers at my institute, Johns Hopkins University, who work on TB research. In summary, our focus spans both basic science and clinical research of TB. Basic science research spans study of how Mycobacterium tuberculosis grows and causes the disease and how it can be killed. We use both in vitro and animal models to study new candidate drugs for treatment of TB. Clinical research involves large clinical trials of new diagnostics and new drugs for evaluation in TB patients.
What makes tuberculosis so difficult to tackle?
Multiple issues associated with TB make it a difficult disease to work on. The first is that it is an infectious disease that is airborne and, therefore, it is quite resource-intensive to start a research lab or project to study the disease. Second, the bacterium grows very slowly in the lab making it both time and resource-intensive to study it. Third, the lack of good and readily accessible in vitro and animal models of TB make it difficult to simulate TB in humans.
What do you think are the three most significant achievements and successes made by you in the battle against TB?
My group focuses on studying the essential genes or enzymes and metabolites of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and the metabolism of the peptidoglycan layer. Our findings include identification of genes essential for growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in vitro and in vivo. More recently, we have studied and reported on the requirement of a novel enzymes, namely LD-transpeptidases, for biosynthesis of the peptidoglycan layer. This enzyme activity is required for the pathogen to cause TB. We are thinking and working hard and, hopefully, we will be able to come with more significant achievements in the future.