Tobin Receives 2012 ICAAC Young Investigator Award

September 6, 2012

Durham NC — David M. Tobin, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Duke University School of Medicine, has been honored as a recipient of the 2012 ICAAC Young Investigator Award. These awards recognize and reward early career scientists for research excellence and potential in microbiology and infectious disease. Already Tobin has made important contributions to infectious disease therapeutics, explains Lalita Ramakrishnan, University of Washington. “His findings are changing the way we treat TB meningitis, and his work will pave the way for a whole new way to tackle TB, including drug resistant TB.”

Tobin received his Ph.D. with Cori Bargmann at the University of California, San Francisco, where he defined the role of a set of TRPV-related ion channels in C. elegans behaviors. Bargmann describes Tobin as “scholarly and deep; a star in the making. An excellent scientist, Tobin is very smart and intensely interested in his own work and related work.” After graduating, Tobin spent two and a half years living in Guatemala where he taught undergraduate classes at the national university. He became particularly interested in tuberculosis through an HIV and tuberculosis clinic he became involved with while there, and with which he continues to collaborate.

For his postdoctoral studies, Tobin joined Ramakrishnan’s laboratory at the University of Washington, where he used a zebrafish model of tuberculosis. He developed a genetic screen in zebrafish to probe the host genetic determinants of susceptibility to mycobacterial infection. Tobin found that the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory eicosanoids plays an important role in susceptibility and has applied these findings in human cohorts. A functional variant in the human gene LTA4H is associated with disease severity as well as responsiveness to adjunctive therapies for TB meningitis. “As a postdoc in Ramakrishnan’s group, Tobin was instrumental in developing a system to perform forward genetic screens in zebrafish to identify factors influencing disease by the tuberculosis bacillus,” explains nominator Raphael Valdivia, Duke University. “Tobin identified mutations associated with susceptibility to mycobacterial infection in zebrafish and defined the mechanism underlying this susceptibility. More impressively, he then showed that this information could be used to identify genetic variations in human populations that strongly correlated with susceptibility to tuberculosis and leprosy,” Valdivia continued. “These variations predicted outcomes to therapeutic intervention, which he was then able to validate in zebrafish. His study is one of the most scientifically impressive ones I have seen in the field of infectious diseases.”

In 2011, Tobin became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University. His laboratory at Duke studies the host response to mycobacterial infection using zebrafish, bacterial, and human genetics. “Tobin is at the forefront of a new field, where he will make seminal discoveries in TB pathogenesis based on real time observation of the dynamics of cellular immunity within a genetically tractable vertebrate system,” claims Valdivia. Ramakrishnan concluded, “He is one of the most intelligent, intuitive, inventive and resourceful scientists I have ever encountered. These traits, coupled with his strong humanitarian predisposition, will lead him to continue his trajectory of making ground breaking discoveries that will impact the treatment of TB and other infectious diseases.”