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Nhi Van, Research Assistant in the laboratory of the Levy CIMAR’s Bree Aldridge, PhD, and a member of the Aldridge Lab’s “DiaMOND” team

Summer 2023 Featured Trainee:

Nhi Van

  • Research Assistant in the laboratory of the Levy CIMAR’s Bree Aldridge, PhD
  • Member of the Aldridge Lab’s “DiaMOND” team interested in learning to optimize drug combination therapies for tuberculosis and nontuberculous mycobacteria.

Nhi Van is a research assistant in the Dr. Bree Aldridge Lab at Tufts University’s School of Medicine and part of the lab’s “DiaMOND” team, which measures the interaction of antimicrobials in various in vitro growth media mimicking the host’s microenvironment during infection. Using these experimental data, the team has developed computational models that can predict the drug treatment outcome in the relapsing mouse model, which can be used to rationally prioritize combination therapies for testing in in vivo mouse models of tuberculosis. (Click to learn more about the DiaMOND methodology developed by the Aldridge Lab.)

Inspired by the power of DiaMOND and the fact that current treatments for Nontuberculous Mycobacterium (NTMs) are not well established, the team used DiaMOND to study drug interaction in Mycobacterium abscessus, an NTM that is a rising health threat for immunocompromised and cystic fibrosis patients. Nhi and the team measured 191 pairwise drug combination effects among 22 antibacterials and identified 71 synergistic pairs and 54 antagonistic pairs, revealing a large synergistic space yet to be explored. DiaMOND is a methodology designed to identify drug interaction among active antibiotics. Nevertheless, not many antibiotics are potent in M. abscessus due to their intrinsic and acquired drug resistance, eliminating many drugs from the measurement using DiaMOND. Therefore, the team has modified DiaMOND so that it can measure the potentiating effect of the inactive drug in combination with an active drug. Using this modified version of DiaMOND, the team identified 66 potentiator-antibiotic drug pairs, which can be further explored as an alternative option to treat M. abscessus. 

The DiaMOND team is also interested in how generalized drug interactions are among different clinical isolates. In a recent set of experiments, they selected three different clinical isolates obtained from patients at Tufts Medical Center’s Infectious Diseases Clinic and measured drug interactions using a more clinically focused drug set. They observed strain-dependent drug interactions, emphasizing the importance of strain-specific combination measurements for designing improved therapeutic interventions. This work was published in June 2023 (Link: Novel Strategies and Isolate Specificities in the Drug Interaction Landscape of Mycobacterium abscessus, Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2023 Jun 6;e0009023.)

Nhi developed an interest in microbiology (and more specifically, in combatting antimicrobial resistance) in part because of life experiences growing up in a part of the world where infectious diseases and the unregulated use of antibiotics have caused alarm.

Prior to joining the Aldridge lab, Nhi obtained her undergraduate degree in biological sciences at Smith College, where she was a member of the Christine White-Ziegler, PhD, Lab. There, she studied environmental effects, such as temperature and pH, that could alter the infectivity and the virulence of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli, a leading cause of infantile diarrhea in low- and middle-income countries. Nhi’s goal is to attend Medical School in the future, and to specialize in neglected Infectious Diseases. She says, “I want to be a part of the scientific community that raises awareness about antimicrobial resistance, especially in developing countries.”

Besides science, Nhi’s hobbies include traveling, playing the piano, and exploring good foods around the city of Boston, Massachusetts. She also loves spending time with her three-year-old “demanding and chubby” corgi named Chicken.