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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 4, 2003

UI To Lead Planning Grant For Regional Center Of Excellence For Biodefense

The University of Iowa, in collaboration with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Iowa State University and Wichita State University, has received a $1.47 million planning grant for a Regional Center of Excellence (RCE) for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The RCEs are part of the NIAID's strategic plan to improve the nation's preparedness for dealing with unexpected infectious disease threats that arise as a result of bioterrorism or that occur naturally, such as SARS.

The planning grant is designed to support investigator training, research, planning and development of resources and facilities that could lead to future establishment of a RCE.

"We will use this planning grant to establish research and education programs and to develop planning and infrastructure collaborations," said Bradley Britigan, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and principal investigator for the grant. "Then, with those pieces in place, one to two years from now, we plan to apply for a grant to become a Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Disease Research."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and NIAID announced Sept. 4 that eight full RCE grants and two planning grants have been awarded. (

The research and training activities of the RCEs will focus on infection with Category A biodefense agents, which are pathogens that have been identified as those with the greatest potential for use as bioterrorism agents. The ultimate goal of the work performed, and the centers that will support it, will be to develop novel approaches to the diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention of these infections.

The main research project at the UI-based center will examine host-pathogen interactions for Francisella tularensis - the causative agent for tularemia. Several smaller pilot feasibility projects also will be funded that will address other pathogens.

"The research focus of our planning grant will be on the events surrounding the interaction between organisms and host defense systems in the lung," said Britigan, who also is a staff physician at the Iowa City VAMC. "Because most of these agents would be delivered in an aerosolized inhalation form, we will target our investigations to the lung-pathogen interface and investigate how an organism arriving in the lung interacts with host defense systems and presumably evades them."

In addition to the research component, the planning grant also will focus on several other areas that are important to strengthening the infrastructure that will respond to bioterrorism threats and emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

These areas including training future scientists to work in biodefense research and developing collaborations and working relationships with local and regional public health groups to improve the region's ability to respond to any future bioterrorism events. The UI Hygienic Laboratory will be a key component in the public health network for the UI-based center.

The UI researchers and their colleagues also will develop core research and educational resources that can be used by all of the participating institutions and also by approved investigators from federal agencies and private companies.

"The idea is that each region will establish a network of interactions and collaborations, but then each of the regional networks will in turn be linked to one another to provide a national network," Britigan explained.

Britigan is the principal investigator for the UI-based project. Michael Apicella, M.D., UI professor and head of microbiology, is the associate program director. The institutional leaders at each of the collaborating universities are: James Roth, Ph.D., D.V.M., Iowa State University, William Picking, Ph.D., the University of Kansas, and Dennis Burns, Ph.D., Wichita State University.

Several committees will oversee various research, training and infrastructure components of the center. Michael D'Alessandro, M.D., UI associate professor of radiology and director of the Virtual Hospital is chair of the communication committee, which will direct the development of web-based educational and communication tools. Gregory Gray, M.D., professor of epidemiology in the UI College of Public Health, and Mary Gilchrist, Ph.D., UI professor and director of the UI Hygienic Laboratory, are co-chairs of the public health committee, which will oversee epidemiology and public health issues. Mark Stinski, Ph.D., the Carver College of Medicine Distinguished Professor for Virology, is chair of the research committee. Mary Wilson, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and microbiology and a VAMC staff physician, and Jerrold Weiss, Ph.D., UI professor of internal medicine, co-chair the education committee, and John Rosazza, Ph.D., UI professor in the College of Pharmacy and director of the Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing, is chair of the core facilities committee.

Close to 100 researchers at the four universities will be involved in various aspects of the planning grant. There also will be a six-member external advisory board that will help review proposals, participate in strategic planning and advise as to optimal directions for research programs and educational activities.

Britigan emphasized that although the center is based at the UI, its success rests on the commitment and input from all of the collaborating institutions and on establishing collaborations with local public health organizations, federal institutions, private companies and other academic centers.

NIAID is one of the institutes within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is an agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917,

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