Patrick Brennan, a Colorado State professor known worldwide for his research on tuberculosis and leprosy, was selected today as a University Distinguished Professor–the highest honor given to faculty members.
Brennan is one of only 12 professors universitywide selected for the honor, which is reserved for those considered to be among the finest scholars to teach and conduct research at Colorado State.
"I can think of no higher calling than to seek out effective treatments for tuberculosis and leprosy, which inflict millions of people worldwide," said Colorado State President Albert Yates. "By recognizing Dr. Brennan with this honor, we applaud his work, his tireless commitment and the dedication he brings into the laboratory and the classroom." Yates made the announcement at a university honors luncheon, held annually as part of Celebrate Colorado State! week. The event recognizes student, faculty, staff and alumni achievements.
Brennan, a professor in the department of microbiology and head of the Mycobacteria Research Laboratory, said he shares the honor with the other professors, research associates and postdoctoral fellows involved in the laboratory’s research efforts.
"I regard this as an honor for the entire research group, the department of microbiology and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, which have been extremely supportive of our work," Brennan said. "We are able to tackle these diseases from every angle–chemistry, genetics, microbiology and immunology. Through the collaboration with my colleagues, we’ve been able to accomplish a great deal." A native of Ireland, Brennan joined Colorado State in 1980 to investigate the infectious agents and the body’s immune response to tuberculosis, a progressive, infectious disease that annually spawns 8 million new cases and causes 3 million deaths. Although new cases of TB have dropped in the United States to about 25,000 per year, the disease remains prevalent in many undeveloped countries.
Brennan’s research unraveled some of the mysteries surrounding the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, which is characterized by a tough, waxy cell wall that acts as a protective covering. Antibiotics used to treat TB prevent these bacteria from spreading to normal human cells, but the long-term drug treatments needed to cure the disease give the bacteria enough time to mutate into new, resistant forms.
Under Brennan’s direction, the laboratory’s research group was the first to create a model of the bacterium’s cell wall and define which parts are responsible for interacting with normal human cells and causing the disease. Using that model, the laboratory focuses on three main areas: developing new drug treatments that do not develop resistance, creating vaccines that inhibit parts of the bacterium’s cell wall from reaching normal human cells, and improving tests that detect the disease at an earlier stage.
Brennan also led the laboratory’s efforts to create a skin test for early detection of leprosy and TB that does not cause false-positive test results. The laboratory is analyzing both these tests on animals before requesting permission from the federal government to begin human trials. Brennan and his research team also were the first to identify a molecule present in people with leprosy, a finding that led to a new blood test that detects the disease at a much earlier stage.
"Professor Brennan has been and continues to be a bright light in our tuberculosis and leprosy research programs," said James Voss, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "Through his efforts and collaborations with other researchers worldwide, we are making real progress in the battle against these deadly diseases." Brennan received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the National University of Ireland. He has a second master’s and a doctorate from Trinity College in Ireland. Over the course of his 30-year career, Brennan earned numerous academic and scientific awards, including Researcher of the Year Award in 1992 from Colorado State, the Alumni Honor Faculty Award in 1984 and the Society of Sigma Xi Honored Scientist Award in 1985.
Brennan is active in the World Health Organization and chaired its steering committees on the immunology of leprosy and leprosy therapy. Recently, he was named to the organization’s Leprosy Elimination Advisory Group and is chairman of the U.S.- Japan Cooperative Medical Science Leprosy and Tuberculosis Program.
He also serves as a consultant to the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver and sits on the scientific advisory boards for Leonard Wood Memorial and the Heiser Foundation.