CTSC SCHOLAR MEETS WITH CONGRESS
Discusses the importance of translational research
VETERINARIAN MORTEZA ROODGAR, a UC Davis graduate student in comparative pathology and CTSC T32 scholar, is in search of a silent threat lurking in the bodies of 2 billion people. The threat is tuberculosis (TB), and Roodgar is working to develop a more efficient means of diagnosis.
“One-third of the human population worldwide is infected latently with the TB bacterium, and they don’t know it,” Roodgar explains. “They are carriers of tuberculosis but do not have clinical symptoms. The Mantoux tuberculin test, which was developed a century ago, is only 59.7 percent accurate in identifying TB-positive cases, and it cannot detect latent TB at all.”
Latent TB infection is particularly problematic for people who become infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), because they will develop active TB due to the immunosuppressive effects of HIV. Under these circumstances, treatment becomes more complicated.
“Dairy cows and other animals with TB can infect humans through their products. Some people are susceptible to the disease, while others are resistant. I realized that the answer to that mystery is not just in the bacteria,” he said. “I became interested in host genes that regulate immune responses to TB, and I wanted to learn more about the cellular and molecular aspects of disease, rather than just the gross pathology.”
With molecular anthropologist and geneticist David Glenn Smith, a professor in the College of Letters and Science, as his mentor, Roodgar was awarded a CTSC T32 training grant in 2012. “Dr. Smith agreed to provide laboratory space for my research, which focused on identifying and exploring five genetic biomarkers that might correlate with susceptibility to tuberculosis in nonhuman primates,” said Roodgar. A subsequent test of these biomarkers in macaques, an important animal model of human TB, has shown promise, and Roodgar hopes to study human subjects eventually. These biomarkers ultimately could be used to develop a new diagnostic test for TB – one that is both more sensitive than the Mantoux test and is also able to identify latent infections.
Earlier this year, Roodgar’s project caught the attention of faculty members interested in high-impact research projects with the potential for commercialization. This group nominated Roodgar to the UC Davis Office of the Chancellor to meet with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., as part of the annual UC Day in DC, a government advocacy program sponsored by the UC Office of the President. At the event, which took place last May, Roodgar met with Reps. John Garamendi, Doris Matsui and Ami Bera, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and discussed the high-impact implications of his research and how well positioned UC Davis is for translational research.
“Having a medical school, veterinary school, primate research center and the important connecting role that the UC Davis CTSC provides cannot be understated,” Roodgar said. “That combination provides a unique opportunity for conducting translational biomedical research.”
Roodgar found the trip to D.C. an altogether memorable experience that included carefully explaining scientific ideas to nonscientists – in this case, politicians. “I had to keep reminding myself that I should not use any scientific terms that they might not understand,” he recalled.
Back at UC Davis, Roodgar fully intends to continue to use many of the CTSC resources available to translate his research into a product with the potential of saving many lives –
human and nonhuman alike. To this end, Roodgar recently completed a business fellowship with the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. In this program he gained insight about translational and commercialization prospects for the new TB test – yet another demonstration of Roodgar’s ability to parlay diverse collections of interdisciplinary expertise into a comprehensive plan for translational science.