BSA member Ralph Isberg co-directs Tufts Center for Integrated Management of Antimicrobial Resistance

May 1, 2019
Former JCC Fellow also co-directs the Tufts Center for Enteric Diseases in Engineered Tissues


Ralph Isberg recently joined the Jane Coffin Childs Board of Scientific Advisors.

A professor of Molecular Biology & Microbiology at Tufts, he has studied bacterial pathogenesis for decades, asking questions like, “How are intracellular pathogens able to penetrate into normally nonphagocytic epithelial cells? What factors do intracellular bacteria encode that allow them to survive and grow within the normally hostile environment of macrophages? What role do factors that are important for bacterial-host cell interaction models play in an infection of the host?”

Isberg has studied both pneumonic and diarrheal diseases and he is also interested in identifying strategies for eliminating drug resistance in hospital-derived pathogens like Acinetobacter baumannii, which infects people with compromised immune systems. In a recent PLoS Biology paper, he identified how a stress-response system (BfmRS) increases A. baumannii pathogenicity in mammalian hosts and allows it to proliferate despite administration of antibiotics.

Earlier this year, Isberg was named co-director of the new Tufts Center for Integrated Management of Antimicrobial Resistance (CIMAR), along with Helen Boucher. CIMAR aims to build collaborative relationships among scientists and clinicians working on drug resistance, ranging from research on novel drug combinations to lowering the usage of antibiotics. Because roughly 700,000 human deaths are attributable to antimicrobial resistance each year globally, and because current trends predict as many as 350 million deaths annually by 2050, the CIMAR mission is urgent. “We want to use Tufts CIMAR to get people talking to each other to see how our research interfaces,” Isberg said. “The goal then is to start collaborative projects that will allow us to make major contributions to attacking multidrug-resistant organisms.”

Isberg also co-directs the Center for Enteric Diseases in Engineered Tissues (CEDET), focusing on cholera, colitis, yersiniosis, and crytopsporidiosis. In its third year of funding, Center researchers have worked to construct three dimensional models of the gut, aiming to culture human enteric cells and immune cells on bioengineered scaffolding, introduce pathogens and microbiota, and mimic mechanical processes like peristalsis.

As a postdoctoral fellow with Stanley Falkow at Stanford University in the 1980s, Isberg says the JCC fellowship gave him the opportunity to switch from basic E. coli science, which he studied as a graduate student, to bacterial pathogens. At JCC meetings and poster sessions he met people outside his field, and many became lifelong colleagues and friends. “At those meetings, I realized I was doing fresh and new things,” he says, and by the end of his postdoc he had identified the protein that allows bacteria to enter cells that normally do not engulf other cells. Now, Isberg is enjoying keeping up on research by current JCC Fellows. “It’s great to see the new territory that JCC Fellows are pushing into,” he says.