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NIAID Discloses Big Plans For New Bioterror Cash

NEW YORK, March 15 - The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases got specific today about its future goals for anti-bioterrorism research. Part of the big picture: new plans to sequence the genomes of six types of deadly bugs.

 

Since the anthrax attacks last fall, officials in the Bush administration and Congress have jumped to boost spending for scientific and clinical research into a handful of pathogens that could be used by terrorists. In February, Bush proposed a budget that would hike spending on anti-bioterror research from $3.1 billion to $4.3 billion in 2003.

 

Now, NIAID has announced some ideas for its cut of that cash. The research will focus both on basic science and diagnostic and therapeutic advances against anthrax, smallpox, plague, botulism, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

 

The list of potential research projects for these diseases is broad, deep, and includes nearly everything but the kitchen sink. NIAID wants to encourage work in microbial biology, host response, vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. It also intends to increase general research resources such as expanded biohazard facilities, assays, reagents, and new animal and in vitro models.

 

Short-term goals include:

  • New regional Centers of Excellence for Bioterrorism and Emerging Diseases
  • Expanding money for scientific training, intramural and extramural research
  • More work in genomics-based clinical diagnostics
  • Applying structural genomics and proteomics to develop new diagnostic, drugs and vaccines.
  • Developing a MHC/peptide and B-cell epitope database to define immune responses to pathogens.

 

NIAID's long-term goals involve:

  • Defining the human "microbiome"
  • Exploring human genetic variation in disease susceptibility and drug response
  • Genomic analysis of responses to infection with bioterrorism agents
  • In vivo gene expression analysis of bioterrorism agents.
  • Exploring the genetic basis of host susceptibility to infection with these pathogens

 

The report, which may be found at www.niaid.nih.gov/dmid/pdf/biotresearchagenda.pdf, also includes a long list of microbe-specific goals, including comparative genomic sequencing of several strains of anthrax, viral hemorrhagic fevers, and tularemia; new rapid diagnostics for the plague, tularemia, and botulism; plague microarrays for functional genomics studies; and structural studies of botulism toxin receptors,

 

These priorities were developed by NIAID scientists and then reviewed by a special blue ribbon bioterrorism panel that met earlier this winter. That panel, which discussed research priorities for two days in February, included roughly 90 researchers from government, academia, and industry.

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