Tuberculosis (TB) is still one of the top ten leading causes of death globally. Although TB is both preventable and curable, in the last year alone there were approximately 10 million worldwide cases, of which 1.4 million people died. Yet, in the United States and many developed countries the risk of TB exposure is low as 95% of cases are in developing countries. The World Health Organization noted that an estimated 60 million lives have been saved by preventative diagnosis and treatment. However, 6 months of daily treatment with multiple antibiotics are required to cure even the most common form of TB, and the COVID pandemic has a devastating predicted impact on TB burden and deaths worldwide, stressing the critical need for new safe and effective drug regimens.
Visikol and Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) have partnered to evaluate TB antibiotics through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project will analyze old and new drugs’ ability to penetrate into granulomas – the primary site of TB infection in the lungs – and the multiple cell types involved in the interaction with the drugs. Current data from Dr. Véronique Dartois, an HMH researcher and the study’s principal investigator, indicates that drugs differentially penetrate TB granulomas. Understanding the co-localization of drugs and immune cells will be important to determine if drugs can access and kill persistent Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) populations. Mtb is the bacterium that attacks the lungs and causes inflammation and lung tissue destruction. Ultimately, these insights will guide the TB Drug Accelerator and TB drug discovery projects which can potentially lead to more efficacious treatments.
To thoroughly evaluate the effects of drugs and their interactions with the surrounding tissue, Visikol will leverage its proprietary fluorescent multiplexed immunohistochemistry approach combined with MALDI mass spectrometry imaging. This multi-modal approach will be used to automate the quantitative investigation of drug distribution into TB lung lesions. Visikol’s highly multiplexed imaging approach relies on simultaneous and sequential detection of multiple cellular markers, using multicolor fluorescent immunohistochemistry combined with automated multispectral slide imaging, and advanced image analysis software to identify and determine the spatial distribution of immune cells.
“Our novel multiplex approach allows Visikol to visualize ten or more targets simultaneously while also providing clients with custom designed and validated panels in combination with high resolution whole slide imaging, image analysis and comprehensive reporting,” noted Visikol CSO Tom Villani, Ph.D.
The partnership with Hackensack comes as HMH Hospitals are again recognized as leaders in not only New Jersey but across the country. Of the health care systems in New Jersey, HMH is the largest and has the most top-ranked hospitals. In the time of COVID-19 HMH has continually proven itself to be a leader on the front lines combatting the virus and helping patients towards recovery.
“Hackensack has continually been recognized as not only a top hospital and healthcare system, but also as a top research organization. The opportunity to work alongside such a talented group of scientists with support from the Gates Foundation is an exciting opportunity for us,” mentioned Visikol CEO Michael Johnson, Ph.D.
The data from this study will provide beneficial knowledge to researchers in determining what types of drugs are most effective in treating TB. Visikol’s approach to multiplex imaging will provide important insights in the TB drug discovery process that are both timely and data driven.