Two years before I was born, my father battled tuberculosis (TB). He caught the disease from a friend in his work carpool, who caught it from his grandmother living in a nursing home. His illness led to an eight-month stay in a TB sanatorium. The treatment was long, painful, and isolating. He wasn’t permitted to see my two older siblings who were just toddlers at the time. Throughout my childhood, I recall my father being terrified that the disease would reactivate and infect my siblings and me. He even showed me X-rays of a “scar” on his lungs, talking about the bug in his chest and how it could re-emerge at any time.
I was simultaneously frightened and fascinated by this disease—and ultimately my fascination didn’t stop with tuberculosis. I sincerely believe this experience led to my pursuit of a career in infectious diseases and ultimately cemented my passion for global public health.
Although the rate of TB infection in the U.S. today is at its lowest number ever, it still infects millions of people around the world. Most who develop this illness are not as fortunate as my father. Every day, more than 4,600 people die from tuberculosis—that’s more than 1.7 million people annually. Lack of prompt diagnoses, as well as outdated regimens that are increasingly ineffective and costly to administer, means tuberculosis has the ability to run rampant in areas where it’s already difficult to access basic healthcare.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute (Gates MRI) exists to develop new lifesaving tools and medicines for those who need them most. We are focused on combating diseases disproportionately impacting the poor in low- and middle-income countries—specifically tuberculosis, malaria, and enteric diseases. We are committed to applying the latest translational science to accelerate progress against our most pressing challenges.
Our mission is to end the injustice of health inequity. One of our major aspirations is the development of a highly effective TB vaccine and a universal TB drug regimen. This is a bold goal, and we know it will not come easily. However, by building on past interventions and progress made by the global health community and product development partners, we are bringing together the best technology, research, and personnel to discover new and viable solutions to TB and other critical global health challenges. With great talent and the right partners, I am confident that ending health inequity can be accomplished in our lifetimes.
I’ve often thought how fortunate my father was to have had access to the few anti-TB drugs available at the time and excellent supportive care. All families around the world deserve this and more, which is why I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who deeply share in this belief. We at the Gates MRI are highly motivated by our varied personal and professional experiences to get results. I am excited to dig into the science and the tough work of translation in 2018 and beyond, taking every opportunity to accelerate the transformation of new medical discoveries into lifesaving tools for those who need them most.