Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

NJ Med School Gets Army Contract to Define Molecular Signatures of Biological Warfare Agents


As concerns mount about preparedness for bioterrorism in the US, one microarray lab has already begun applying biochip technology to develop gene-based detection platforms for exposure to biological warfare agents.

The Center for Applied Genomics at the Public Health Research Institute in Newark, NJ, working jointly with the New Jersey Medical School Center for Emerging and Reemerging Pathogens, has obtained a contract with the US Army, funding a project beginning in October to develop microarray-based molecular diagnostics for biological agents.

“We’re basically initiating a study to see whether we can come up with molecular signatures of host responses that are very specific for individual agents that a bioterrorist may use,” said Peter Tolias, director of the Center for Applied Genomics. “Our hypothesis is that there probably are signature gene expression responses.”

Initially, Tolias and his group will do gene expression profiling in human high-density arrays, and then once they isolate specific signatures, will aim to design low-density arrays with the key genes involved in signature responses to particular agents.

The researchers are looking at a list of agents provided by the US Department of Defense. “They are first-, second-, and third-tier agents they have identified that can be used by bioterrorists,” Tolias said.

These agents most likely include common threats such as anthrax, botulinum toxin, plague, smallpox, and tularemia, which have been identified by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies as the most widely known and suspected to be used. But they could also include other agents known to the Army.

Given that Tolias and others will be working with these agents, and that the entire US is on a state of increased alert, security has been increased at this facility. He recommends that any university with a Biosafety Level 3 facility do the same thing. “Just as [terrorists] can ram a jet into a skyscraper, it doesn’t take much to ram into a university facility,” he said.


The Scan

Drug Response Variants May Be Distinct in Somatic, Germline Samples

Based on variants from across 21 drug response genes, researchers in The Pharmacogenomics Journal suspect that tumor-only DNA sequences may miss drug response clues found in the germline.

Breast Cancer Risk Gene Candidates Found by Multi-Ancestry Low-Frequency Variant Analysis

Researchers narrowed in on new and known risk gene candidates with variant profiles for almost 83,500 individuals with breast cancer and 59,199 unaffected controls in Genome Medicine.

Health-Related Quality of Life Gets Boost After Microbiome-Based Treatment for Recurrent C. Diff

A secondary analysis of Phase 3 clinical trial data in JAMA Network Open suggests an investigational oral microbiome-based drug may lead to enhanced quality of life measures.

Study Follows Consequences of Early Confirmatory Trials for Accelerated Approval Indications

Time to traditional approval or withdrawal was shorter when confirmatory trials started prior to accelerated approval, though overall regulatory outcomes remained similar, a JAMA study finds.