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Assistant Professor Ying Kong of UTHSC Receives $187,343 Grant to Continue Tuberculosis Research

With his new grant funding, Dr. Ying Kong will delve deeper into his studies of tuberculosis, primarily focusing on host-pathogen interactions.
With his new grant funding, Dr. Ying Kong will delve deeper into his studies of tuberculosis, primarily focusing on host-pathogen interactions.

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that is often contracted through an airborne bacterium known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It remains a leading public health problem worldwide, with an estimated 8 million new cases and 2 million deaths each year. Although most M. tuberculosis infections, known as pulmonary TB, are in the lungs, 5 to 10 percent of TB patients can develop the disease in organs other than their lungs, or extrapulmonary TB. Ying Kong, PhD, is exploring the pathogenesis or the origin and development of the latter.

Dr. Kong, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), received a grant totaling $187,343 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health. Known as an R21 grant, the award encourages new, exploratory and developmental research projects by providing support for the early stages of project development. The study titled, “Non-invasive Fluorescent Imaging Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Extrapulmonary Infection,” is being conducted over one year.

Extrapulmonary sites of infection can involve almost any organ, such as lymph nodes, bones and joints, eyes, intestines, larynx, or the urinary and reproductive systems, skin, and stomach. This condition is difficult to diagnose because the clinical presentation is atypical; tissue samples for the confirmation of diagnosis can sometimes be difficult to procure; and the conventional diagnostic methods have a poor yield, often resulting in delayed diagnosis. Better understanding of the disease’s pathogenesis is urgently required in order to control it.

“With the grant, we will evaluate two imaging compounds for in vivo imaging of M. tuberculosis infection in rodents,” said Dr. Kong. “The compound with higher sensitivity for detecting bacteria will be selected to study the aspects of bacterial invasion and dissemination from the initial pulmonary infection site (to other organs) in rodents. The success of this study will help to unravel the intricacies of extrapulmonary TB and to screen for anti-TB therapies and vaccines in live animals.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.