As Hawaiʻi is a hotspot for Non-Tuberculosis Mycobacteria (NTM) pulmonary disease, the Hawaiʻi NTM Education and Research Conference was hosted by the National Jewish Health (NJH) and ʻIolani School on Feb. 1-2, 2020 to help educate and spread awareness of NTM lung disease to Hawaiʻiʻs students, scientists, health care providers, and the general public.
The National Jewish Health team, led by Dr. Jennifer Honda, an Associate Professor and TRMD graduate faculty, established one of the largest citizen scientist projects in NTM including an outreach network of Hawai’i high school students, undergraduates, and their mentors from 11 different schools and involving more than 400 local students. Their goal is to understand the environmental, host, and microbial factors driving the emergence of this lung disease in the Hawaiian Islands. Volunteers also included local adult volunteers and family members of NTM patients, who act as citizen scientists to help collect > 2,000 household and non-household environmental samples from Oahu, Kauai, Hawai’i Island, and Maui. NJH also partnered with local pulmonologists and infectious disease physicians to obtain matched respiratory NTM isolates and environmental samples from NTM patients. By understanding the diversity of NTM in these environmental and respiratory samples, potential source points of infection can be identified and mitigated.
The purpose of the two day conference was to share their findings with the students and mentors that have helped procure samples as well to explain to the Hawai’i community the step-by-step process of how NTM is sampled, processed and cultured, and genomically identified, and to show how this data relates back to what is observed clinically. The presentations also showcased the overwhelming scientific accomplishments that can be made when local communities, researchers, clinicians, and patients work together to understand this under-recognized lung disease of public health importance.