University of Illinois at Chicago receives $15.7 million grant to stop anthrax

A team of ten researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago has received a $15.7 million grant for a multi-pronged program to develop drugs to treat and stop the spread of anthrax, the often fatal infectious disease that has been rated second to smallpox in potential impact as an agent of bioterrorism.

The grant is the largest ever received at UIC.

Anthrax is a serious threat because it can be bioengineered to be resistant to multiple drugs. The primary goal of the UIC program is to search for new drugs that will provide alternate defenses against an engineered organism.

Michael Johnson, professor and director of the UIC College of Pharmacy's Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, will direct the four-and-a-half-year program, which is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health.

Research will be conducted simultaneously in five interrelated projects that build on a well-established collaborative network of UIC researchers in the colleges of pharmacy and medicine.

The program integrates multiple strategies toward the development of new antimicrobials, new potentiators of existing antimicrobials and direct inhibitors of the anthrax toxin as strategies to combat natural and bioengineered forms of Bacillus anthracis.

Johnson said it is technically quite feasible for terrorists to develop new, more potent strains of B. anthracis that could be a substantial threat in future attacks. Well before the anthrax attacks of 2001, anthrax was identified by the Working Group on Civilian Biodefense as one of the most serious organisms -- capable of causing disease and deaths in sufficient numbers to cripple a city or region.

Experts estimate that release of aerosolized anthrax spores could result in tens of thousands of deaths, Johnson said.

While the anthrax strain unleashed in 2001 was susceptible to conventional antibiotics, Alex Neyfakh, UIC

Contact: Carol Mattar
University of Illinois at Chicago

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