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Biodefense Partners Charged With Fighting Disease as Weapon

October 25, 2005

CHICAGO --- Northwestern University has been named a collaborating institution for a Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Diseases by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Robert L. Murphy, M.D., John Philip Phair Professor of Infectious Diseases and professor of medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, will head the center with the principal investigator, Olaf Schneewind of the University of Chicago.

The five-year, $35 million collaborative effort, which involves researchers from lead institution University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and 20 additional upper-Midwest universities, hospital and research organizations, will apply the tools of modern science to fight infectious diseases, with particular emphasis on those that can be used as biological weapons and for emerging, or newly identified microbial pathogens.

The NIAID plans to invest approximately $350 million over five yeas in eight such centers around the country.

The regional centers are a key element in the NIAID’s strategic plan to expand research in the detection, prevention and treatment of potentially lethal illnesses that can be caused by biological agents ranging from the known pathogens that could be used for bioterrorism to new and as yet little-known emerging diseases that develop naturally, such as SARS, West Nile virus, drug-resistant bacteria and many others.

The Great Lakes RCE will focus on the development of diagnostic, therapeutic and vaccine products for anthrax, botulism, tularemia, hemorrhagic fever viruses and plague. Such research, based on genomics, proteomics and a molecular-level understanding of cell function, is expected to have profound and far-reaching consequences over the next decade and beyond.

“The strength of the Great Lakes RCE is in the quality and diversity of its member institutions and scientists,” Murphy said.

“Together we will able to pool our resources and develop novel diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatment again the agents of bioterrorism and emerging infections,” Murphy said.

The Great Lakes RCE will join together research groups from 22 institutions in six states included in federally designated Region V.

The research teams will involve more than 300 scientists, said Murphy, including a core of more than 60 key researchers who specialize in microbiology, immunology, infectious diseases, public health, medicine, vaccine research and pharmacology, as well as related disciplines such as biochemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics and nanotechnology.

Besides performing research, the RCE will act as a regional resource for public health officials, providing expertise, rapid diagnosis, support and advice about containment and treatment in the event of a bioterror outbreak or the emergence of new disease-causing agents. It also will teach young scientists and technicians how to do productive and safe research on infectious diseases.

Topics: Research