International collaborative study produces important findings to tackle infectious disease
Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU)’s College of Science and Engineering (CSE) has contributed to an international study with important findings that may help address the challenge of increasing drug-resistance against tuberculosis (TB), which is currently the leading cause of death by an infectious disease worldwide.
Dr. Tanvir Alam, Assistant Professor in Information and Computing Technology at CSE, and collaborators from infectious disease research centers in South Africa, Cameroon, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Japan, have published their research findings in the influential Nucleic Acid Therapeutics, ranked among the top journals for drug discovery in the Scopus database.
TB is mainly caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Tuberculosis (Mtb) and kills over 1.6 million people worldwide every year. With multidrug-resistant TB strains widely regarded as a global threat to TB control, there is an urgent need for innovations that target host-pathogen interactions as a strategy.
In the study, the researchers evaluated the role of a specific long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) during infection with the HN878 strain of Mtb. RNA, or Ribonucleic acid, which is present in all living cells, is a genetic molecule with structural similarities to DNA. Although some lncRNAs play an important role in immune cell functioning, their role in bacterial infections remains understudied. In this study, CSE’s world-class high-performance computing (HPC) facilities and the Bioinformatics Lab of Dr. Alam enabled the team to undertake the large-scale genomic and transcriptomic analysis required for this study.
Their findings identify the lncRNA (MIR99AHG) as a positive regulator of inflammation and intracellular growth. This potentially makes it a possible target as an adjunct (additional treatment) to existing antibiotics for TB, if developed as a host-directed drug therapy (HDT).
HDTs are considered crucial to achieving the World Health Organization (WHO)’s “End TB Strategy” by 2035. They offer hope for individualized management of TB infection, given their potential to shorten TB treatment duration, prevent antibiotic resistance, and reduce lung injury by promoting autophagy, antimicrobials, and other macrophage effector mechanisms. HDTs would help in the advancement of precision medicine approaches to drug therapy for TB.
Dr. Alam, a leading expert in the field of long non-coding RNA, explained: “The role of long non-coding RNAs in cancer has been well studied; however, there is limited data available on its role in relation to TB. We have identified and verified the role of this particular lncRNA by analyzing huge amounts of genomic and transcriptomics data. Given that TB remains the leading cause of death by infection worldwide, in addition to the challenges of drug-resistant strains and co-morbidities, collaboration on research and innovation is critical. Having the core computational capabilities that can help to unlock the full potential of genomic research, and making these available to researchers around the world, enables CSE to contribute in solving global challenges.”
Commenting on the study, Dr. Mounir Hamdi, Founding Dean of CSE, said: “CSE faculty are widely recognized for their pursuit of high-impact research. Dr. Tanvir’s contributions to this study once again demonstrate that our expertise and capabilities are helping to address important societal goals. In this case, it is a particularly crucial goal, to advance precision medicine approaches to overcome the burden of prevalent diseases.”