About

The Mycobacteria Research Laboratories, founded in 1986, is an internationally recognized research and training center within the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology at CSU. Home to over 110 faculty and scientific staff, the center is one of the largest groups in the world specifically charged with, and dedicated to, mycobacteria research.

The center conducts basic, preclinical, and field research related to Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Mycobacterium leprae, nontuberculous mycobacteria, animal, and zoonotic mycobacterial infections. Researchers focus on the complex biology of pathogens and hosts, antibiotic resistance and mode of action, discovery of new drugs and diagnostics, vaccine development, and generation of novel and relevant models of disease.

The research specializations and technologies employed for the study of mycobacteria are also relevant to the broader field of infectious diseases; in 2020, center researchers began and collaborated on multiple vaccine development projects to fight COVID-19.

Principal investigators within the Mycobacteria Research Laboratories receive funding from various government and non-governmental sponsors, with the National Institutes of Health as the largest source. Researchers are highly integrated and collaborate extensively within the center, at the university, and with private companies, non-profit foundations, and research and clinical laboratories around the world.

The center is situated in a unique environment with access to exceptional resources and facilities, which include more than 10,000 sq. ft. of BSL3 and ABSL3 laboratory space and state-of-the-art equipment.

The research programs of the center have trained and mentored many visiting scientists from around the world, research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and students. Former trainees have continued on to successful mycobacteria research careers at a number of global organizations and institutions.

Mycobacteria Research Laboratories scientists are active at international conferences, in addition to hosting the Colorado Mycobacteria conference every few years. They organize an annual seminar series on campus and in honor of World Tuberculosis Day (March 24), inviting Colorado high school students to a science outreach day full of hands-on activities. Through teaching, training, research, and outreach, members have a global influence on the understanding and treatment of mycobacterial diseases.

History

Patrick Brennan in the 1990s
Patrick Brennan, circa 1990s
Ian Orme in the 1990s
Ian Orme, circa 1990s

The Mycobacteria Research Laboratories was founded in 1986 at Colorado State University by two faculty, Patrick Brennan and Ian Orme, in the Department of Microbiology.

Patrick Brennan came to CSU in 1980 as an associate professor with active research on the antigenic repertoire and heterogeneity of Mycobacterium leprae, Mycobacterium avium complex, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. He first began tuberculosis research as a Ph.D. student at Trinity College, Dublin, a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California, Berkeley, as faculty in Dublin, and eventually a position at the National Jewish Hospital, Denver in 1975.

Ian Orme, an immunologist with experience on animal models of tuberculosis, was recruited to CSU in 1986. He came from the University College, London via the famed Trudeau Research Institute in New York. Orme brought his own National Institutes of Health funding and pioneered work on the cellular basis of protective immunity in tuberculosis.

Together, they founded the Mycobacteria Research Laboratories with the intent of generating an internationally recognized center of excellence for the study of mycobacterial diseases and pathogens. The recruitment of additional faculty, and those who rose through the program, increased the depth and breadth of mycobacterial research expertise and activity the center is known for today.

The Mycobacteria Research Laboratories became involved in research on the CSU Foothills Campus in 1995 with the need for BSL-3 facilities to bulk culture Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and later for the animal tuberculosis models for vaccine development and testing contract. Early National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-sponsored contracts, in addition to grants, established the center’s scientific leadership in models of disease, mycobacterial drug screening, and in vivo vaccine efficacy. Innovations from the center have led to numerous patents and licensing agreements over the years.

The center has been an active component of the growing university focus on infectious diseases since its founding. The distinction of University Distinguished Professor was conferred upon center professor Patrick Brennan by Colorado State University in 1997, and Ian Orme in 2009 for their outstanding scholarship contributions.

In 2004, Colorado State University was selected as the Rocky Mountain Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Disease to support regional multidisciplinary research. A 2007 CSU initiative, the Infectious Disease Supercluster, provided internal support and recognition of CSU’s infectious disease expertise, in large part to the presence of centers such as the Mycobacteria Research Laboratories. Most recently, center faculty are part of the Infectious Disease Research and Response Network (IDRRN) at Colorado State University, a Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence to investigate, study, and develop mitigation strategies for diseases at local, national, and international levels.