Diane Ordway spends up to 12 hours at a time in a lab with a mask, scrubs and hairnet, researching highly infectious strains of tuberculosis. She changes clothes when she enters the lab and showers when she leaves.
If a disease leaks, the negative air pressure in the lab ensures that no air escapes. Despite the long hours, the precautions and the danger of her work, Ordway and her team still have passion for what they do.
Ordway, an assistant professor at CSU, recently received a $1.5 million New Innovator Award from the National Institute of Health for her work.
“She’s fearless, absolutely fearless,” Ian Orme, a professor and researcher in the Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology Department, said.
Ordway has researched tuberculosis for 15 years, becoming interested in the bacterial disease after taking Orme’s Immunology class as a student at CSU in the 90s. She worked with Orme as a research assistant on TB for a year after graduating with a microbiology degree.
Ordway is used to operating under difficult circumstances. While partnering with Orme, she worked hands-on with multiple TB strains and developed the hypothesis that would later lead the NIH to fund her grant.
From CSU, she traveled to London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on a scholarship to earn her doctorate and post-doctorate degrees. She worked diligently on her research, but she said the work took a toll emotionally.
Much of her research involved working with patients infected with either HIV or TB.
When explaining why she found her work emotionally draining, she said bluntly, “Everybody died in the end.”
However, she also said that her experiences with infected patients gave her a new passion for her research.
Ordway reluctantly returned to CSU after 10 years in London to continue her research.
After Ordway requested Orme as a job reference, he convinced her to visit Fort Collins. She has now worked at the university for more than five years.
“The problem is, the mountains hook you,” Ordway said with a laugh.
Since returning, Ordway has continued research on clinical strains of TB at CSU. Most TB researchers observe lab strains of TB, or strains that only exist in labs, because they are more commonly understood.
In the 1990s, however, new drug-resistant TB strains resurfaced around the world. TB strains in rural areas became drug-resistant over time from insufficient infection treatment.
Once a person becomes infected with TB, drug treatment takes between six to nine months. If that person stops treatment before the infectioProxy-Connection: keep-alive
is fully treated, however, the infection develops a resistance to the drug.
TB is classified into two categories: the infection and disease stages, the latter of which is more severe. In the infection stage, a person houses the bacteria but cannot spread it to others; when a person enters the disease stage, TB overcomes the body’s immune system and spreads, making the person symptomatic and contagious.
If a person doesn’t fully treat their TB in the infection stage, the remaining bacteria becomes immune to the drugs and spreads – through coughing, sneezing, talking, or laughing– — when TB enters the disease stage.
Ordway received her grant for challenging the research trends by examining the newer, clinical strains of TB that affect the general population. Clinical strains of TB have a differently structured immune system, making them harder to treat.
Clinical strains provoke T-regulatory cells, which tell the body’s immune system to stop working and help TB spread through the lungs and, in some cases, other parts of the body. Lab strains of TB do not induce T-regulatory cells.
With the grant, Ordway will examine the immune systems of clinical strains of TB. She wants to discover what makes these strains drug-resistant and what makes them more deadly.
Ordway admits that much of the research for the grant will involve long hours in the lab, but she has faith in the team researching with her.
“We always work like a group,” said Marcela Tamayo, a post-doctorate scholar, who works with Ordway. “We have a very good relationship . it’s the only way to deal with that amount of work.”
Staff writer David Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.