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The Intersection of Infection and Biodefense

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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About the Author

Marcus Horwitz

Marcus Horwitz is Distinguished Professor of medicine and of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, US.

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December Issue of The Medicine Maker