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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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Hansen's Disease Research

Thomas P. Gillis

Dr. Thomas P. Gillis

Chief, Laboratory Research Branch
Ph.D. 1978
Louisiana State University Medical Center
New Orleans, LA

The major research focus of my lab is to better understand protective immunity in leprosy by studying immunological responses and their consequences in animal models of the disease with the ultimate aim of producing a vaccine capable of protecting humans against infection with Mycobacterium leprae. This research takes the form of designing, constructing and evaluating vaccines made from antigenic components of M. leprae and M. tuberculosis. Our current focus is on developing and testing DNA vaccines, recombinant BCG as well as auxotrophic mutants of M. tuberculosis.

Knowing who should receive a new leprosy vaccine requires a thorough understanding of the dynamics of leprosy within the community. To better understand this area we are working toward establishing a genotyping system for M. leprae that would allow tracking transmission of the bacteria. Short and intermediate length repeating DNA sequences, known as variable number tandem repeats, are being examined for their ability to differentiate strains of M. leprae with the goal of using these markers to define transmission patterns of leprosy in communities. Reaching the above goals will allow us to design better intervention strategies and tools for improving early diagnosis, minimizing transmission to individuals at risk for infection and provide reagents for vaccinating against infection.

Representative Publications

Greenstein, RJ, Gillis, TP, Scollard, DS and ST Brown. Mycobacteria: Leprosy, a Battle Turned; Tuberculosis, a Battle Raging; Paratuberculosis, a Battle Ignored. in Sequelae and Long-Term Consequences of Infectious Diseases, Ed, Pina M. Fratamico, James L. Smith, and Kim A. Brogden; 2009 ASM Press, Washington, DC.

Williams, DL, Slayden RA, Amin, A, Martinez, AN, Pittman, T, Mira A, Mitra A, Nagaraja V, Morrison, NE, Moraes, M, Gillis, TP.  Implications of high level pseudogene transcription in Mycobacterium leprae.  BMC Genomics, 2009; 10(1):397.

Truman, RW, Andrews K, Robbins NY, Adams LB, Krahenbuhl, JL and Gillis TP.  Enumeration of Mycobacterium leprae using real-time PCR.  PLoS (Neglected Tropical Diseases), 2(11):e328. Epub 2008 Nov 4.

Gillis TP, Scollard DM, Lockwood DN. What is the evidence that the putative Mycobacterium lepromatosis species causes diffuse lepromatous leprosy? Lepr Rev. 2011 Sep;82(3):205-9.

Duthie MS, Gillis TP, Reed SG. Advances and hurdles on the way toward a leprosy vaccine. Hum Vaccin. 2011 Nov;7(11):1172-83. Epub 2011 Nov 1.

Truman RW, Singh P, Sharma R, Busso P, Rougemont J, Paniz-Mondolfi A, Kapopoulou A, Brisse S, Scollard DM, Gillis TP, Cole ST. Probable zoonotic leprosy in the southern United States. N Engl J Med. 2011 Apr 28;364(17):1626-33.