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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

New grants target bioterrorism

Research teams at the Medical Center have received two $10 million grants to help bolster national defenses against potential bioterrorist attacks. Together with a September grant that aims to improve emergency medical treatment after a "dirty bomb" radiation attack, the new grants bring to $41 million the antiterror research funding received by the Medical Center in two months.

The new grants are from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the nation's leading institution for research into vaccines against potential bioterror agents. One grant will establish the Center for Biodefense Immune Modeling, designed to develop mathematical models and computer simulations of how the human immune system responds to influenza A and smallpox, two of the worst threats. Such simulations could help researchers devise countermeasures, including new ways to boost the body's ability to fight disease.

"The infection simulator would allow us to think like would-be bioterrorists, testing in cyberspace how the body responds to viruses that have been engineered to be even deadlier," says Hulin Wu, professor and division chief of the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology and director of the new center. "We must plan ahead for potential attacks that if not countered, could cause a global epidemic that takes tens of millions of lives. Should bioweapons never be used, the work better prepares us for a future attack by nature itself, perhaps in the form of a bird flu pandemic."

The second grant will establish the Program for Biodefense of Immunocompromised Populations. Its goal will be to find ways to help those most vulnerable to a bioterrorist attack survive, despite having weaker immune systems. Along with children and the elderly, also vulnerable are millions of patients with diseases like cancer or rheumatoid arthritis (RA), where leading treatments weaken the immune system as a side effect. The team will look to determine how RA treatments render vital immune cells defective and how the process might be reversed by tailored vaccines.

To read more about these ongoing efforts and the researchers involved, visit www.urmc.rochester.edu/pr/news/story.cfm?id=936.



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