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UT Southwestern researchers receive $15.1 million in federal grants to study biothreats

DALLAS Oct. 6, 2003 Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have been awarded $15.1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to study anthrax, ricin, plague, tularemia and Lassa fever all pathogens that can be used as biological weapons.

The largest of the grants is a 4-year, $8.7 million award to study tularemia, a deadly infection caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis that is easier to use as a weapon than anthrax. Dr. Michael Norgard, chairman of microbiology at UT Southwestern, will lead a team of six researchers in five separate projects analyzing the external environment of the bacterium and identifying how it reacts with target host cells.

Other research groups at UT Southwestern will work to develop a vaccine for ricin, engineer antibodies against anthrax, develop new drugs to treat Lassa fever, and identify the method by which the organism that causes plague blocks the body's innate immune response, resulting in proliferation of the pathogen.

The grants were awarded by the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"Embarrassingly little information is known about the organism that causes tularemia," said Dr. Norgard. "Our work will be rooted in basic science, with the goal of moving toward things that could have more practical use in the biodefense effort, such as treatments, vaccines, diagnostics, and novel intervention strategies."

Francisella tularensis was one of several biological weapons stockpiled by the U.S. military in the late 1960s, and destroyed by 1973. Fifty to 100 incidences of tularemia occur naturally in the U.S. each year, most often in farmers, veterinarians and hunters. The illness can be transmitted through a bite from an infected animal, such as a mouse, squirrel or rabbit, or by direct contact with the animal's tissues or fluids. It can also be transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food, water, or soil; or by in
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Contact: Rachel Horton
rachel.horton@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
6-Oct-2003


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