19 Jan Medical College lands $8.1M grant to detect bird flu, bioterror agents
Milwaukee, Wis. – The Medical College of Wisconsin, in response to the federal government’s call for accelerated research, has been awarded a five-year, $8.1 million federal grant to develop a rapid, automated diagnostic device to test for avian flu and the majority of potential bioterrorism agents.
The grant, which was awarded by the National Institutes of Health’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will be used to develop a device that would be used in outpatient settings.
Kelly Henrickson, principal investigator for the project and a professor of pediatrics and microbiology at the Medical College, said the new device that researchers are developing may allow cost effective, point-of-care diagnosis of bioterrorism agents within one to two hours.
Henrickson, also a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and founder of the Waukesha biotech firm Prodesse, already has developed a diagnostic test for the simultaneous detection of the seven common lower respiratory viruses, including several varieties of influenza. This technology, known as the Hexaplex diagnostic test, is the platform for an array of products physicians use to rapidly detect the microbes responsible for illnesses such as chicken pox, SARS, and the West Nile virus.
His laboratory’s most recent product is an assay, or test, that can detect 15 category “A” bioterrorism agents, so named because they are infectious enough to pose the greatest potential threat. These agents include anthrax, botulinum toxin, and a group of RNA viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers.
Avian flu, another agent, is of grave concern because it can be spread from birds to humans, and potentially from human to human. The government is worried that terrorists could take advantage of avian flu’s flexibility and engineer more virulent strains that are capable of being spread from human to human and causing worldwide pandemics.
At the moment, there is no diagnostic test that can detect all of the avian varieties of influenza A.
Joining the Medical College in carrying out the work of the grant will be Children’s Hospital, Children’s Research Institute, and Nanogen, Inc., a developer of advanced diagnostic products based in San Diego, Calif.
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