Gyanu Lamichhane, a 35-year-old Nepali researcher at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, has drawn the world several steps closer in finding a better, faster and reliable cure for tuberculosis (TB), which kills over two million people across the globe each year.
His latest findings have paved the way for a much faster approach of weakening the TB causing bacterium, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, which could potentially shorten TB treatment that now takes at least six months.
In recognition of his achievement, the US governments National Institute of Health honoured Lamichhane with the coveted New Innovator Award-2011 on September 19 along with a direct funding of $ 1.5 million (Rs 117 million) for his research to be carried out at the university within five years. A statement issued by the Institute on September 19 stated that the award was conferred on Lamichhane and 48 other young scientists for various promising researches in health sciences.
During his research at Johns Hopkins Centre for Tuberculosis Research, Lamichhane, the assistant professor at the university, discovered what exactly the cell wall of TB causing bacteria is made of. He revealed that the protective cell wall of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis is held together by an enzyme named L,D-transpeptidase. The revelation is said to have come as a breakthrough in the effort to develop medicine that could break the protective wall of the bacterium and thus weaken it and cure the disease altogether.
His research has a key finding that if L,D-transpeptidase is unable to function, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis will have its cell wall weakened and the remaining chemical linkages in the bacterial wall will be an easy target for drugs used in the treatment of TB. Lamichhane now intends to pursue his research on what effect antibiotics will have on L,D-transpeptidase and the possible cure for tuberculosis as well as other bacterial infections.
My primary interest is the study of genes essential to the growth of micro bacteria. In future I intend to study the cell division and regulation of cell cycle in micro bacteria, Lamichhane told the John Hopkins University publication after receiving the award. He had harboured the dream of finding a cure for TB since 1993, when he was a high school student in Chitwan. In an interview with the Post in 2009, he had stated that his grandfather\’s death from TB pushed him to find a cure for it.
\”My team was doing research with the aim to identify how mycobacterium tuberculosis grows. We found that an unusual enzyme is required for the bacteria to grow properly and cause disease,\” he told the Post over telephone from the US on Sunday.
We have demonstrated what needs to be done to make new drugs. Now the challenge is to work on making drugs and testing them, he added.
About one third of the worlds population is believed to be infected with M Tuberculosis with 10 million new cases each year.
Tuberculosis is a leading cause of death among those who are infected with both HIV virus and M Tuberculosis, causing for the death of nearly 500,000 people with infections of both.
The complete treatment of tuberculosis requires at least six months for a short course treatment. Lamichhane hopes that the findings will help shorten the treatment duration to mere two weeks.
Lamichhane, who himself suffered from latent tuberculosis, had received a grant worth $ 100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation in 2009 for the research on tuberculosis. He was also featured as one of the 36 best and brightest in America by Esquire magazine in 2007.