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Ohio State Shares Lead in New Federal Biodefense Project

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The University of Minnesota and Ohio State University will lead a new 15-institution project to plan a Regional Center of Excellence for biodefense.

The two-year effort, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases in the National Institutes of Health, will focus on how some specific organisms that have a potential for use as bioterrorism agents develop and are transmitted.

This $1 million award is one of several the agency announced today that are part of a comprehensive effort to increase our understanding of microorganisms that might pose a risk as biological agents. The NIH is providing $350 million to fund eight Regional Centers of Excellence and two planning grants for such centers.

This planning grant will allow the partner institutions to set up the basic science programs essential to deal with this threat.

Along with researchers at Ohio State and Minnesota, scientists from Indiana University, Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Cincinnati, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center and John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County, Wright State University, the University of Michigan, the Illinois and Ohio Departments of Health, Battelle Memorial Institute, the Columbus Children’s Research Institute, Cargill and 3M Pharmaceuticals corporations will also take part.

Patrick Schlievert, professor of microbiology at the University of Minnesota and principal investigator for the project said, “This planning grant will fund the assembly of a large regional consortium -- initiating research projects, training researchers and building a team for an emergency response.”

Larry Schlesinger, professor and director of the division of infectious diseases at Ohio State and co-principal investigator, said, “We are excited about our new role in this project because it recognizes the tremendous expertise our faculty offer to this biological challenge. Research underway now and planned for the future may play a critical role in our ability to protect the public in the future.”

One project under this new grant will look at how an internal regulatory mechanism within Bacillus anthracis (the bacterial cause of anthrax) controls the organism’s ability to infect.

Another project will focus on a different organism – Francisella tularensis – that causes an infection known as “rabbit fever.” That work will investigate how the organism enters healthy cells and thrives.

These grants are part of a large, national program intended to increase the country’s research resources needed to counter biodefense threats. The program includes support for ongoing research into the basic biology of organisms which might be used in an attack, as well as resources to enhance the country’s share of biocontainment facilities.

Tom Rosol, interim vice president for research and professor of veterinary biosciences, said that the broad partnership this grant represents provides another example of how research organizations can successfully join forces.

“The challenges we face today often require us to pool our expertise and resources across various organizations to conduct the best research possible,” he said. “This project is a perfect example of how effective that approach can be.”

Fred Sanfilippo, senior vice president for health sciences and dean of the College of Medicine and Public Health, applauded the grant announcement.

“The successful winning of this important award meshes well with the University’s commitment in establishing our new Center for Microbial Interface Biology. The progress we make in this important area will be vital to the safety and health to the people of Ohio and the nation.”

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