The Intersection of Infection and Biodefense
Marcus Horwitz’s primary focus is on infectious diseases, but a number of pathogens he has studied led him into the realm of bioterrorism. Recently, Horwitz and his team has developed a single vector vaccine platform that could offer protection against tularemia, anthrax, plague, and melioidosis – all considered significant bioterrorism threats.
Marcus Horwitz |
While in medical school at Columbia University, I spent six months in East Africa, working in clinics and studying public health. In that region of the world, infectious diseases have an especially large impact on human health, which influenced me to focus my career on infectious diseases. My initial studies, at The Rockefeller University, centered primarily on the biology and immunology of Legionella pneumophila, the agent of Legionnaires’ disease; early on, my mentor, Samuel Silverstein, and I discovered that L. pneumophila was an intracellular pathogen of human mononuclear phagocytes. Later, after joining the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, I turned toward studying tuberculosis (TB), caused by another intracellular pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. My interest in intracellular pathogens also naturally led me to study Mycobacterium leprae, the agent of leprosy, and later Francisella tularensis, the agent of tularemia. And that is where my work began to link in with biodefense – F. tularensis is considered a Tier 1 Select Agent of bioterrorism. When inhaled, F. tularensis can cause a severe and often fatal pneumonia. I was attracted to F. tularensis primarily because of the opportunity it presented to study an intracellular pathogen with a different intracellular lifecycle from others that I had previously worked on. In the wake of the anthrax attacks in the US in 2001, federal funding for research on bioterrorism agents, including F. tularensis, also increased dramatically making it possible to carry out both basic and applied research on this organism.
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