Blanca I. Restrepo, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Science at UTHealth School of Public Health Brownsville Campus, presented her novel findings on the higher risk of pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) in people with diabetes at the Keystone Symposia’s 50th Anniversary event in Breckenridge, Colorado in early August. Restrepo’s area of research is gaining attention given the increased resurgence of TB among people with diabetes in the U.S. and the world.
She was named the Clinical Core co-director for the newly funded Tuberculosis Research Advancement Center at Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. The center will receive close to $5.8 million from the NIH over a five-year period to support and train what health officials call the “next generation” of TB researchers.
Restrepo’s work over the last two decades has focused on tuberculosis and diabetes in a Hispanic population along the Texas-Mexico border. Restrepo, originally from Colombia, is bilingual and bi-cultural and conducts multi-disciplinary studies that are devoted to understanding the epidemiology and biological basis for re-emerging type 2 Diabetes (T2D) as a risk factor for TB. Her team showed that the community in the Texas-Mexico border has among the highest prevalence of T2D among TB patients worldwide (nearly 40% of the TB patients have T2D).
“My long-term goal is to identify strategies to stratify the millions of T2D patients at risk for TB, for improved T2D management and TB prevention," she said.
At the Keystone symposium Restrepo highlighted her recent studies in the elderly, showing that even though diabetes is highly prevalent in this population (about 60%), unexpectedly, it is not a risk factor for active TB in this age group. Her team’s results suggest that differences in inflammation or in insulin resistance, may underlie these age-related differences.
“The research shows that studies in the elderly are not only ethical, but also valuable to the scientific community to help reveal novel mechanisms that allow Mycobacterium tuberculosis to trick our immune system and be such a deadly human pathogen,” she said.