May 27, 2019

Tulane Research: Fighting the Epidemic

Tulane Research: Fighting the Epidemic

Researchers stemming from various areas of study at Tulane University have been crucial factors in the effort to combat contagious disease epidemics around the world. In the exhibit OutBreak: Epidemics in a Connected World, the extensive efforts of the researchers are chronicled. The exhibit, which is co-sponsored by The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, is a part of the Smithsonian’s Outbreak project. As the world’s population increases, interactions between humans, animals, and the environment also increases. Hence, this project aims to increase awareness of human, animal, and environmental components that influence contagious disease epidemics. By gathering global partners to work together, the project aspires to stop outbreaks before they even have the chance to occur. The diseases featured in the Outbreak exhibit include cancer, the common cold, Ebola, HIV, leprosy, and Yellow Fever.

In response to the exhibit, vice president of research, Dr. Laura Levy, says, “From its inception, Tulane has been a leader in the fight against infectious diseases. This is an opportunity to share that story with those who may not be familiar with some of the groundbreaking advances that have happened right here in New Orleans at Tulane.”

The exhibit begins with the history of Tulane University, which was founded in 1834 by seven doctors who yearned to fight the spread of Yellow Fever, malaria, and smallpox. From that premise, the university went on to be a center of innovative research for issues of global contagion. Some of the most prevalent breakthroughs affiliated with the university are the discovery of the linkage of cigarette smoking to lung cancer, the development of tests to guarantee the safety of polio and measles vaccines, and the isolation of the common cold virus by Dr. William J. Mogabgab in 1955. The development of the first single-lens binocular microscope is also linked to Tulane. With the development of this microscope came the first documented study of cholera.

Some of the more modern-day research at the university includes the study of gene therapy in primates to assist children with genetic disorders, the development of an improved diagnostic test for Lyme disease, and continued research of diseases such as HIV and Ebola. Consequently, when the Ebola epidemic emerged in Sierra Leone, Tulane researches were of the first to respond.

The exhibit’s research was led primarily by Sally Baker, a MD/PhD graduate student in the School of Medicine. As a young ambassador for the American Society of Microbiology, she collaborated with the Office of Communications and Marketing at Tulane to put the exhibit together. When asked about the basis of the exhibit, Baker said, “Today, we continue to struggle with epidemics, such as the current measles outbreak. I thought it was important to highlight some of the work that Tulane has done in the field of infectious disease, particularly working to develop better vaccines and prevent outbreaks. We wanted to bring that knowledge to the public in an exhibit.”

Tulane University’s Outbreak exhibit is described as a regional version of a larger-scale endeavor. In 2018 – the 100thanniversary of 1918’s Great Influenza pandemic – The Smithsonian unveiled a national Outbreak exhibit in Washington, D.C. This national exhibit spans at 4,250 square feet and will remain open until February of 2021. The exhibit is fueled by the premise of the connectivity of virus and seeks to maintain that in order to suppress outbreaks, people from several different fields must band together to carry out “coordinated detective work.”

Tulane’sOutBreak: Epidemics in a Connected Worldopened on May 1 and will run until July 31, 2019. The exhibit is free-of-charge and is located in the Diboll Gallery of the Tidewater Building, 1440 Canal Street.

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