Meet Our Researchers

Roby Bhattacharyya

Postdoctoral Fellow at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
The Question

Current meningitis diagnostics take up to a week, meaning doctors often have to make educated guesses about the source pathogen—be it bacteria, viruses, or fungi. And when they guess wrong, patients end up with the wrong antibiotics, which doesn’t help them get better and contributes to antibiotic resistance. My team and I wondered: could we develop a faster diagnostic tool?

The Approach

We believed we could build a speedy and precise meningitis diagnostic by using an RNA-based assay on the cerebrospinal fluid of patients. Our big-picture idea was that an RNA-based assay could identify the source pathogen from its expressed genes.

The Results

As it turned out, we were able to make the diagnostic work for bacteria and fungi, but not for viruses. However, the insights we gained have greatly benefited the research we’re now doing in the Broad’s Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program. For example, we’re continuing to hone many RNA-based diagnostics. Using a new assay, we’re attempting to decode the earliest signals that bacteria send in response to antibiotic exposure to identify resistant organisms. If we can understand these signals, we can improve (and make better decisions about when we use) antibiotics. So far, our team has demonstrated this new assay on several pathogens listed by the CDC as urgent threats. We’ve also begun to extend the approach to tuberculosis, the world’s leading infectious killer. It was BroadIgnite funding that first planted the seeds of this exciting research, and I’m grateful to the community for its stalwart support of my work and ideas.