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Researchers to collaborate on biodefense

September 9, 2003 By Terry Devitt

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Sept. 4 the establishment of eight Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.

UW–Madison is part of a collaboration of 11 Midwestern institutions selected as one of the new centers. The $350 million initiative was unveiled by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.

To be based at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, the Midwestern RCE will have funding of more than $7 million per year for five years. More than a dozen UW–Madison faculty and staff will be involved in expanding research in the detection, prevention and treatment of potentially lethal illness that can be caused by biological agents. These could range from 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 Midwestern 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 far-reaching public-health consequences.

Objectives include supporting new lines of research; training researchers and other personnel for biodefense research activities; the development and testing of vaccines, therapies and diagnostic technologies; the development of core research facilities; and the provision of facilities and scientific support to first responders in a national biodefense emergency.