WCMC Receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research by Dr. Kyu Rhee

Weill Cornell Medical College announced on June 2 that it has received a US$100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Dr. Kyu Rhee, Assistant Attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, titled "Metabolosomes: The Organizing Principle of Latency in Mycobacterium Tuberculosis."

Dr. Kyu Rhee

Dr. Rhee's project is one of 81 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the second funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. The grants were provided to scientists in 17 countries on six continents.

To receive funding, Dr. Rhee showed in a two-page application how his idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving more than 3,000 proposals in this round.

Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death due to bacterial infection worldwide, but an effective drug therapy is elusive because sub-populations of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria stay dormant within the body. Dr. Rhee is studying the dormant state of the bacteria in order to understand how it protects itself from the body's natural defenses, and from currently available drug therapies, which have only been effective at destroying active forms of the bacteria.

Through mass spectrometry, a technique used to determine the composition of a molecule, Dr. Rhee hopes to understand the molecular machinery of the dormant Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. Doing so may help lead to the discovery of a drug target to either prevent its replication or break through the protective protein shield during its hibernation phase.

"Mycobacterium tuberculosis is like a hybrid car. When accelerating you're using the gas and when you are sitting still you are using electricity," explains Dr. Rhee, who is also the William Randolph Hearst Foundation Clinical Scholar in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medical College. "We understand a lot about the active phase, but during dormancy, the bacterium is using a different type of circuitry that researchers need to understand in order to create effective therapies."

"The winners of these grants are doing truly exciting and innovative work," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program. "I'm optimistic that some of these exploratory projects will lead to life-saving breakthroughs for people in the world's poorest countries."