Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children’s Health Research Awarded to Johns Hopkins Medicine Infectious Disease Specialist

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NEW YORK (Nov. 3, 2022)Dr. Pranita Tamma, a physician-scientist whose research focuses on identifying mechanisms of drug resistance and optimizing the use of antibiotics to treat infections in children, has been awarded the seventh annual Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children’s Health Research, Weill Cornell Medicine announced today.

The Drukier Prize honors an early-career pediatrician whose research promises to make important contributions toward improving the health of children and adolescents. Dr. Tamma is an associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of pediatric antimicrobial stewardship at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. She is being recognized for her research into identifying and addressing mechanisms of drug resistance in gram-negative bacteria, which can often defeat most available antibiotics.

Her work, funded by the National Institutes of Health, includes optimizing antibiotic administration strategies and leading a clinical trial of viruses found in nature that selectively kill bacteria, called bacteriophages, or phages. Overall, Dr. Tamma aims to discover more effective treatments for infections caused by gram-negative bacteria, such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, surgical site or wound infections and meningitis that can develop in health care and community settings.

Dr. Tamma received her award, which carries an unrestricted honorarium recognizing young investigators conducting innovative pediatric research, on Nov. 3, where she also gave a presentation of her work. Dr. Stuart Orkin, the David G. Nathan Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Boston Children’s Hospital, delivered the Gale and Ira Drukier Lecture in Children’s Health, which highlights research and discoveries that have contributed to remarkable advances in understanding and treating children’s diseases. Dr. Orkin is a renowned investigator into the development and function of stem cells and in the genetic basis and treatment of inherited blood disorders, including sickle cell disease and thalassemia.

The Drukier Prize and Lecture were both established as part of a $25 million gift to Weill Cornell Medicine from Dr. Gale Drukier and Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Fellows member Ira Drukier in December 2014. The gift created the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children’s Health—a premier, cross-disciplinary institute dedicated to understanding the underlying causes of devastating childhood diseases.

“Dr. Tamma is an outstanding physician-scientist whose commitment to advancing pediatric care through research exemplifies why the Drukiers established this prestigious award. We thank them for their continuing support,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “Dr. Tamma’s research into the mechanisms of childhood infections and new treatment approaches offers hope to children with these diseases, and their families. We are delighted to recognize her this year.” 

“Dr. Tamma’s commitment to improving the lives of children and adolescents with challenging, drug-resistant infections is impressive,” said Dr. Gale Drukier and Weill Cornell Medicine Fellow Dr. Ira Drukier, who established the prize in 2014. “It is our pleasure to recognize exceptional physicians and scientists like Dr. Tamma, who are working diligently to make significant advancements in children’s health.”

“Dr. Tamma’s research addresses the large need to find new treatment approaches for addressing multi-drug resistance in bacterial infections in children,” said Dr. Virginia Pascual, the Drukier Director of the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children’s Health and the Ronay Menschel Professor of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Her work has the potential to help children worldwide. The Drukier Institute is pleased to honor her dedication to advancing this essential area of investigation.”

Dr. Tamma studies bacteria collected from patients with infections that did not respond to antibiotics to determine how the bacteria evaded destruction. She investigates changes to dosing strategies and administering antibiotics in new combinations to find innovative ways to reduce the likelihood of resistance from developing. For example, she discovered that a longer intravenous infusion time of three hours versus one hour with the novel drug ceftolozane-tazobactam significantly decreased the subsequent emergence of antibiotic resistance and allowed it to remain effective in patients infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a highly antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The finding was included in the latest Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Guidance on the Treatment of Antimicrobial-Resistant Gram-Negative Infections.

Dr. Tamma is the primary investigator of an NIH-funded clinical trial comparing phage therapy versus placebo in persons with cystic fibrosis and infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which are often chronically colonized in this patient population. The study is one of the first clinical trials testing intravenous phage therapy in the United States and has begun enrolling participants in 20 hospitals nationwide. If phage therapy proves it can reduce bacterial counts for prolonged periods safely, Dr. Tamma plans to compare its effectiveness for other infections in future clinical trials.

Dr. Tamma received a medical degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical School in 2004 and a master of health science degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2011. She completed a postgraduate internship and residency in pediatrics in 2005 and 2007, respectively, followed by a fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases in 2011 at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Tamma has received several awards, including the Young Investigator Award from the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society Foundation and a Pediatric Investigator Award from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, both in 2017. She is a member of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, the Infectious Disease Society of America and the Society for Hospital Epidemiology of America. She currently chairs the Infectious Disease Society of America Guidance on the Treatment of Antimicrobial Resistant Infections.

Dr. Orkin was the first to provide a comprehensive understanding of molecular processes in thalassemia syndromes, and his work has led to novel genetic therapies for thalassemia and sickle cell disease. In his lecture, he discussed how advances in genetic treatment approaches over the past 15 years have made it possible for patients with these diseases to live without severe issues, known as functional cures.

He has received numerous accolades for his work, including election to the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. Dr. Orkin’s most recent awards include the Canadian Gairdner International Award (2022), Gruber Prize in Genetics (2021), Tobias Prize Lecture of the International Society of Stem Cell Research (2021), Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine (2020) and the King Faisal Prize in Medicine (2020).

Dr. Orkin received a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He conducted postdoctoral research in molecular biology at the National Institutes of Health and established his research lab at Boston Children’s Hospital while completing his training in hematology-oncology. He served as chair of the Department of Pediatric Oncology at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center from 2000 to 2016 and has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 1986.

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