Immunology professor lands national honor for TB research

photo of Orme

When news reached Colorado State University Professor Ian Orme that he had been named a Fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, his first reaction was satisfaction that the association had recognized his rebellious side.

Orme, who according to AAAS records is one of 24 current Fellows from CSU, was lauded by the association for his “insights into latent tuberculosis” in the association’s citation. That’s a topic on which Orme has been swimming against the current. Conventional thinking holds that TB bacteria is asleep, or turned off, in the lung cells of those who have been exposed to TB but haven’t developed the disease. But Orme has argued that the bacteria are actually surviving outside the cells, in dead lung tissue.

“I’m quite controversial in the field for saying that what we call latent TB is not latent at all,” he said. “I’ve always been a bit of an anarchist — I like shaking the tree — so it was very gratifying that the citation noted this aspect of my work in addition to my more general work on the immune response in the infected lung.”

photo of Orme
Dr. Ian Orme (click to enlarge)

Orme, a University Distinguished Professor and member of CSU’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, was also recognized by the AAAS for his groundbreaking work on vaccines and drugs for tuberculosis. He was the first to show the activity of the drug rifabutin, which is now used to treat TB-like infections in AIDS patients, and he performed significant pre-clinical studies on the new drug bedaquiline, including showing that the therapy could reduce treatment times dramatically. In 2013, bedaquiline became the first TB drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration in four decades.

In 1998 Orme co-founded CSU’s Mycobacteria Research Laboratories, which has grown to include more than 150 research personnel. It is located in one of the most secure laboratories of its kind in the world, where researchers can work with some of the most virulent types of tuberculosis.

“With over 2 billion people infected with M. tuberculosis worldwide, the current and future potential impact of Dr. Orme’s work is truly impressive,” AAAS Fellow Jeffrey Wilusz, one of Orme’s fellow professors in the department, said in his letter nominating him for the AAAS honor. “As of early March 2014, Dr. Orme has published over 265 papers in his field that have been cited a staggering 13,714 times. Thirty-five of his papers have received more than 100 citations.”

Orme, who was named a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2002, came to CSU in 1986 and worked with CSU President Tony Frank on early studies on the pathology of TB in the 1990s, when Frank was an assistant professor of pathology.

“Ian is not just a friend and respected colleague, he is also clearly one of the undisputed world leaders in the field of infectious disease and tuberculosis research,” Frank said. “His work has had a profound impact on global health. On behalf of Colorado State University and all of his colleagues and students — past and present — I want to congratulate Ian on his election to the AAAS. It’s truly well-deserved.”

Colleagues at other institutions agreed.

“Ian Orme has been a strong voice in the TB community for decades, unfailingly backing opinion with scientific data,” said Steven Reed, president and chief scientific officer of the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle. “More than anyone else, he has worked assiduously to develop, use, and make available to others relevant models that have contributed greatly to the development of new vaccines and therapeutics for tuberculosis.”

photo of Orme and Crystal Shanley
Orme with his lab manager, Crystal Shanley (click to enlarge)

Dr. Andrea Cooper of the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, N.Y., added, “He is an internationally renowned figure in the battle against tuberculosis. His seminal work on the nature of the T-cell response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis was critical to our understanding of the immune cells involved in the control of this devastating disease.”

Orme said of being named an AAAS fellow is a great honor.

“It reflects not just on me, but the hard-working people in this program, as well as CSU itself, because the university has provided funding for the facilities needed to do this kind of work,” he said.

This year the AAAS named 401 new Fellows for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin on Feb. 14 during the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, Calif.

The tradition of the AAAS Fellows began in 1874. Currently, members can be considered for the rank of Fellow if nominated by the steering groups of the Association’s 24 sections, or by any three Fellows who are current AAAS members (so long as two of the three sponsors are not affiliated with the nominee’s institution), or by the AAAS chief executive officer. Fellows must have been continuous members of AAAS for four years by the end of the calendar year in which they are elected. Each steering group reviews the nominations of individuals within its respective section and a final list is forwarded to the AAAS Council, which votes on the aggregate list.

The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal Science. AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes 254 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals.

Other AAAS Fellows from CSU include:

Elliot Bernstein, Department of Chemistry
Daniel Bush, Department of Biology
Patrick Byrne, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences
Eugene Chen, Department of Chemistry
Debbie Crans, Department of Chemistry
James Detling, Department of Biology
Ellen Fisher, Department of Chemistry
Gregory Florant, Department of Biology
Judson Harper, Department of Agricultural Engineering
Wayne Keim, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences
Branka Ladanyi, Department of Chemistry
Jan Leach, Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management
Nancy Levinger, Department of Chemistry
Marilee Long, Department of Journalism and Technical Communication
Donald Mykles, Department of Biology
George Olson, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
N. LeRoy Poff, Department of Biology
David Randall, Department of Atmospheric Science
Tomislav Rovis, Department of Chemistry
Henry Shands, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences (affiliate)
Diana Wall, Department of Biology
Jeffrey Wilusz, Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology
Anireddy Reddy, Department of Biology