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Infectious Diseases: Looking for Global Solutions

Infectious diseases claim the lives of 12 million children each year. In response, the faculty of the Department of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude is aggressively pursuing projects aimed at curing or preventing the four leading infectious causes of death that threaten children around the world: pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, AIDS, gastrointestinal infections (especially cholera), and tuberculosis (TB).

Department Chair Elaine Tuomanen, MD, is targeting Streptococcus pneumoniae, the most important and deadly bacterium known to invade children. Tuomanen has been pulling apart this organism genetically and identifying the molecules it uses to escape the blood stream, invade cells, and cause disease. Her work is directly aimed at helping to develop vaccines against S. pneumoniae, stop the disease process, guide the development of new and better antibiotics, and interrupt the spread of those genes that confer resistance to antibiotics.

This ambitious project in St. Jude’s Department of Infectious Diseases, pursued in cooperation with our Department of Structural Biology, holds the promise of laying bare the deadly secrets of this bacterium; and, perhaps one day, making it a disease of the past by protecting children worldwide against the deadly ravages of S. pneumoniae. It also offers hope to children left vulnerable to pneumonia by medical treatments, such as radiation, that damage the immune system, as well as for 80% of patients diagnosed with AIDS who normally developed P. carinii pneumonia.

Another weapon in the fight against deadly disease wielded by the Department of Infectious Diseases is Dr. Robert Webster, one of the preeminent flu experts in the world. Dr. Webster not only leads a major research effort aimed at developing flu vaccines and anti-flu drugs, he also is regularly recruited by U.S. and world health authorities to assist these groups during flu outbreaks. 

Our commitment to the work of these researchers is demonstrated by our building a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) facility, a manufacturing plant similar to that used by pharmaceutical companies. The facility manufactures a variety of investigational medical products for other diseases.

The on-site location of the GMP facility at St. Jude gives St. Jude researchers the independence to develop their projects without the constraints of financial considerations that shape such initiatives in the private sector.