Press Releases

2007 Releases

NIH New Innovator Grant Awarded to Sarah Fortune, HSPH Physician and Scientist Who Investigates How TB Persists in Immune Systems

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Boston, MA -- SF (Fortune.jpg)Sarah Fortune, Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), is among the first recipients of the New Innovator Awards inaugurated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Fortune will use the funding to investigate the mechanisms by which tuberculosis escapes the host immune response.

NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., will announce the New Innovator Awards tomorrow, along with the recipients of Pioneer Awards. Both types of awards recognize exceptionally innovative investigators, many of whom are in the early stages of their careers. The awards are part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research initiative that tests new approaches to supporting research. See Fortune is among nine individuals affiliated with Harvard to newly receive a New Innovator or Pioneer Award. To read more about other Harvard winners, see

"I am thrilled to have received this award," said Fortune. "At HSPH, I have benefited from tremendous mentorship from Dr. Eric Rubin and Dean Barry Bloom, who has encouraged me to focus on the ‘Big Questions.' When studying an illness such as tuberculosis, which has been around for millennia, it is important to consider not just scientifically interesting questions, but those that are important to changing the face of TB."

Said Barry R. Bloom, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, "Sarah Fortune is one of those junior faculty that senior faculty dream of - bright, innovative, independent, willing to take risks, and extraordinarily effective as a scientist and a delight to work with as a colleague."  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one-third of the world's population is currently infected with the pathogen that causes tuberculosis. Many of those infected live in the developing world. Approximately two million people die from tuberculosis each year.

Tuberculosis is caused in humans by bacilli Mycobacterium tuberculosis that can spread from person to person through droplets expelled into the air from infected respiratory systems. Many healthy people's immune systems can control the infection so that the illness remains latent, but the risk of developing active disease climbs enormously among people who have HIV or other illnesses that compromise the immune system.

No one understands how the immune system holds the infection in check but fails to clear it. Fortune speculates, contrary to the prevailing model, that the bacteria change significantly during the course of infection, staying one step ahead of the host's ability to recognize and kill them.

"Little is understood about the dynamic interaction between M. tuberculosis and the infected host over the long course of infection," said Fortune. "To begin to elucidate this process, we have posed simple questions: does the bacterium vary gene structure and/or expression over the course of infection, and is this variation advantageous to the bacteria? The answers will allow a better understanding of the variations of bacteria like those that cause TB. Equally important, studying the variations will help us identify at what points M. tuberculosis changes to evade the immune response. Ultimately, these vulnerabilities may suggest specific targets for the development of vaccines and therapeutics."

Said Eric Rubin, Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at HSPH, "This award is designed to support extremely innovative work. Sarah Fortune is precisely the kind of accomplished and creative scientist who fits the bill." Fortune worked as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Rubin's laboratory before becoming a member of the HSPH faculty in 2006.

Fortune earned her B.S. in biology at Yale University in 1990. She was graduated with a degree in medicine from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1996. She completed her residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and her training in infectious diseases at BWH and Massachusetts General Hospital from 2000-2001.

Following her clinical fellowship, Fortune came to HSPH as a postdoctoral fellow. Last year, Fortune was appointed as Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at HSPH.

This August, Fortune was named a recipient of an Early Career Award for Physician-Scientists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In December, she was named an award recipient from the Charles H. Hood Foundation. She has also received the Maxwell Finland Award for Excellence in Research from the Massachusetts Infectious Disease Society and the Harvard Medical School Teaching Award for Residents in Internal Medicine. Her faculty research page may be found at

For more information contact:
Christina Roache


Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public's health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 300 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 900-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children's health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information visit