TB experts address a global scourge

Symposium assembles tuberculosis experts from around the world

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

February 17, 2011


2011 winner

Symposium faculty included (left to right) Catarina Kiefe, PhD, MD; Juan Moreira, MD, PhD; Sarah Fortune, MD; Sam Behar, MD, PhD; Therese Vallerskog, PhD; Christopher Sassetti, PhD; Katherine Luzuriaga, MD; and Paul Jacques Boncy, MD.

United by their mutual goal to reduce the global burden of tuberculosis (TB), an international, interdisciplinary cadre of experts gathered for a unique symposium at UMass Medical School on Wednesday, Feb. 9. Hosted by the Office of Global Health (OGH) and Commonwealth Medicine, “Addressing the Global Challenges of Tuberculosis” brought together basic scientists, clinicians, outcomes researchers, public health officials and industry representatives to share insights from their respective disciplines and open avenues for collaboration.

Roughly one-third of the globe’s population is infected with the TB bacterium, and every year more than 2 million people worldwide die from active TB, which is also the leading cause of death among people with HIV/AIDS. “Understanding the complexity of TB and the challenges of addressing it effectively, we felt it was necessary to bring together a multidisciplinary group,” explained OGH Associate Provost Katherine Luzuriaga, MD, professor of pediatrics and medicine, who moderated the proceedings.

Keynote speaker Paul Jacques Boncy, MD, set the stage for subsequent roundtable discussions with an overview of the global TB epidemic, including barriers to effective diagnosis and care. His summary drew on direct experience: a Haitian internist and microbiologist, Dr. Boncy is director of The National Public Health Laboratory of Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population. Ravaged by TB even before last year’s devastating earthquake, his country has benefited from its collaboration with the Massachusetts Supranational TB Reference Laboratory (MSRL), which provides technical assistance for diagnosis. MSRL research is administered by UMass Medical School through a partnership established in 2006 between Commonwealth Medicine and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

“As you can imagine, being from a developing country, TB is in the heart of our interests, as we are very concerned about alleviating the burden of our present epidemic,” Boncy said. “I am pleased that UMass Medical School invited me to participate.” Also participating in the roundtable was Juan Moreira, MD, PhD, MS, national director of public health in Ecuador. UMMS faculty and distinguished guest faculty from other Massachusetts institutions completed the roster.

“We hope that bringing these people together will stimulate collaboration leading to solutions, and that trainees will find an area they are interested in participating in, whether for a summer or a career,” said Dr. Luzuriaga. 

Faculty Participants at “Addressing the Global Challenges of Tuberculosis”

  • Sam Behar, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the Harvard Medical School Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at Brigham and Women's Hospital

  • John Bernardo, MD, professor of medicine and research professor of biochemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine, tuberculosis control officer for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and chair of Stop TB USA

  • Paul Jacques Boncy, MD, professor of microbiology and laboratory medicine at the University of Haiti and the University Notre Dame of Haiti, and director of the National Public Health Laboratory of Haiti

  • Sarah Fortune, MD, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard University School of Public Health

  • Catarina Kiefe, PhD, MD, professor and chair of quantitative health sciences

  • Juan Moreira, MD, PhD, national director of public health for the Ecuador Ministry of Public Health

  • Christopher Sassetti, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology & physiological systems

  • Alexander Sloutsky, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Massachusetts Supranational TB Reference Laboratory at the CWM Center for Health Policy and Research

  • Therese Vallerskog, PhD, post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Hardy Kornfeld, MD, professor of medicine

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