GALVESTON, Texas — For hundreds of years, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death for Americans and Europeans — an incurable airborne plague that slowly destroyed the lungs, kidneys and brains of those it infected. Then, in the middle of the 20th century, improved living standards and the development of antibiotic drugs caused a sharp decline in TB infections and deaths — to the point where, today, tuberculosis has dwindled to a minor public health concern in much of the U.S.
That’s not true in the Lone Star State, however. In 2009, the last year for which accurate figures are available, Texas tallied 1,501 tuberculosis cases, making it second only to California in total cases of the disease. In the same year, according to public health authorities, Texas also ranked second in the U.S. in cases of the much rarer and more dangerous multi-drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.
Fortunately for Texans, their state is home to one of the largest and most active communities of researchers working to find ways to fight tuberculosis, which still kills about 1.7 million people worldwide. Many of those scientists and clinicians are coming to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston April 11 for the Texas Tuberculosis Research Symposium, a daylong gathering of biomedical investigators from major TB research programs throughout the state.
“We want to bring together and highlight the really strong collection of tuberculosis experts in Texas, and give them a chance to interact and hopefully generate multidisciplinary collaborations,” said UTMB assistant professor Janice Endsley, one of the symposium’s organizers. “We have epidemiologists coming, bacteriologists, vaccinologists, pathologists, pediatric TB physicians, folks from the state health services to talk about public health and prevention — it’s a very diverse group.”
The symposium’s sessions are organized around the institutions represented, with talks by groups from Texas A&M College Station, The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, UTMB, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the Heartland National TB Center in San Antonio, Texas Southern University, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the University of Texas-Brownsville, Baylor College of Medicine, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Rice University. Galveston National Laboratory director James LeDuc will also discuss UTMB’s high containment facilities, a potentially useful asset for Texas TB researchers.
“If people want to look at extensively drug-resistant TB strains or if they want to use cutting edge imaging technology within high containment, the unique resources of the GNL could be very valuable to them,” Endsley said. “That’s the kind of collaboration we’re trying to promote.”
UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development and the James W. McLaughlin Endowment are co-sponsoring the symposium. Members of the media wishing to attend should contact UTMB’s public affairs office.