Dr. Fikadu Tafesse receives grant to develop nanobody-based therapy for TB

Dr. Fikadu TafesseNovember 29, 2017

Fikadu Tafesse, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, OHSU School of Medicine, received a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to explore the potential of nanobodies as a targeted therapy against tuberculosis.

The award, in the amount of almost $400,000 over a period of 12–18 months, will fund a pilot study to generate Mtb-binding nanobodies and determine their potential for TB therapeutics targeting granulomas. This work will be conducted in collaboration with Veronique Dartois, Ph.D., of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

"It is estimated that more than two billion people around the world are infected with the latent form of tuberculosis and about three million die every year," said Dr. Tafesse. "Due to inadequate protection from the Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine, co-morbidity with HIV and increasing incidence of infection with drug-resistant strains of Mtb, tuberculosis is still on the rise. The continued global impact of this infection underscores the need for improved therapeutic strategies."

He went on to explain: "The accumulation of cells around the foci of infected cells leads to the formation of organized aggregates of macrophage-rich cell masses known as granulomas. Despite the fact that granulomas are a histological characteristic of TB, there is no therapeutic intervention to date that specifically targets this aspect of the disease. Granulomas are the hallmark of Mtb infection and hence denote the epicenter where TB treatment should be targeted."

In collaboration with the lab of Dr. Dartois, Dr. Tafesse's team will examine the potential of nanobody agents – a special class of antibodies with multiple advantages over conventional antibodies – to penetrate TB granulomas.

Dr. Tafesse received his Ph.D. from Utrecht University, The Netherlands. He did his postdoctoral studies at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research (MIT) in the lab of Dr. Hidde Ploegh where Dr. Tafesse was an NWO Rubicon fellow and worked on host-pathogen interaction of viruses, fungi and bacterial toxins. Before joining OHSU, Dr. Tafesse was an instructor in medicine and an assistant in immunology at the Ragon Institute of MGH, Harvard and MIT where he established his research program in Mtb and HIV.