In 1976, Ken Stuart, PhD, opened the Issaquah Group for Health and Environmental Research, which was set up to foster the best and brightest researchers who were working to combat trypanosomes and related parasitic diseases. Today, the organization is known as Seattle BioMed, and it employs 15 faculty members and more than 330 workers in all.
Despite its expansion over the past 37 years, current President Alan Aderem, PhD, explains that Seattle BioMed (officially known as Seattle Biomedical Research Institute) has stayed true to its roots. The organization's focus lies in the basic research that leads to better understanding of, and interventions for, tuberculosis, malaria, HIV and parasites such as those causing African sleeping sickness-diseases that, at a fundamental level, remain a mystery.
Aderem was one of three co-founders of the Institute for Systems Biology, also a Research!America member. Aderem believes that systems biology, when integrated with immunology and infectious disease research, can accelerate progress in the development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics, and he is implementing that approach at Seattle BioMed. There's already one success story.
"We have a program in South Africa with 6,000 adolescents all latently infected with TB. We took blood from them every six months over the course of two years. In that time, a small number of them became ill with active TB," Aderem explained. "By comparing the networks within the wide-circulating white blood cells, we were able to come up with a predictive network that allows us to tell very early on whether or not a kid with a latent infection is likely to get sick."
Aderem said that combating public health threats such as TB is critically important to the U.S.
"Totally drug resistant TB is a very real danger. This is especially true because TB is so easy to spread worldwide," Aderem said. "We need to make lawmakers aware of this issue because it's a major public health threat-not only in resource-poor countries, but also in the United States. Despite the fact that the bacterium that causes tuberculosis was discovered 130 years ago, we still don't have an effective vaccine against it. We need to understand the basic mechanisms by which the bacterium subverts the immune system. Continued investment in scientific research is critical, and the advocacy and public polling carried out by Research!America helps bring these issues to lawmakers' attention for the collective of medical research institutes that includes Seattle BioMed."
Learn more at www.seattlebiomed.org.