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Fall 2002
Vol. 65, No. 1

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Conference Takes Aim at Bioterrorism

Donald (D.A.) Henderson '54M (MD), former head of the U.S. Office of Public Health Preparedness, makes a point during the Medical Center's 2002 Convergence Conference, which focused on the threat of bioterrorism.

The likelihood of future terrorist attacks using biological weapons remains a very real threat, said Donald (D. A.) Henderson '54M (MD), one of the nation's leading experts on bioterrorism, during the keynote address of the Medical Center's 2002 Convergence Conference last May.

Henderson also spoke at the opening of the new biomedical research building at the Medical Center.

"Our experience indicates that a second major event will happen, and right now we're not prepared for that second shoe to drop," Henderson said. "We need to bring together the best of the scientific academic world, the private sector, and industry to prepare for such an event."

Bioterrorism was the focus of this year's conference, which brought together academic, government, and industry experts to discuss the danger and methods to fight the threat.

"The 21st century is a new era of bioterrorism," Henderson said. "The epidemic diseases threaten the security of all nations. This country especially has no experience dealing with epidemics."

The newly opened medical research building adds significant research space, with many labs to focus on biomedical research.

One of the biggest issues in combating bioterrorism is delivering treatment to the areas affected. Henderson noted that in the days following the terrorist attacks when all flights were grounded, there were only two planes in the air. One was Air Force One, and the other was delivering vaccines for smallpox and anthrax to the affected cities.

As head of the newly developed Office of Public Health Preparedness, Henderson oversaw the distribution of more than $3 billion to promote bioterrorism preparedness. Community plans, submitted in order to receive a share of the funding, have shown that the country has come a long way since September 11, he said.

But while the government may be getting prepared and devoting more funds to these issues, the medical community has to stay ahead of the danger as well, he said. He pointed out a study conducted by researchers at Rochester and three other centers around the country that demonstrated a diluted dose of smallpox vaccine is as effective as the full dosage.

"Doctors don't want to go into bioterrorism. They see it as the antithesis of their calling, to save lives. But they don't always think of the other side of biomedical research-that it could save lives in the end."

Biomedical research is the focus of a new $30 million medical research facility adjacent to the Kornberg Building at the Medical Center. The 143,000-square-foot addition houses research in pediatrics, genetics, lung biology, endocrinology, stem-cell biology, and human genetics.

"That space creates an environment to attract world-class researchers and is critical to the success of our strategic plan," said Medical Center CEO Jay Stein at the building's opening. "In its labs, scientists and physicians have already been working on asthma and lung cancer, bioinformatics, birth defects and vaccines, and immune system responses to transplantation."

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