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Last Updated

07 Dec 2002

Source: Associated Press, March 14, 2002.

NIH Plans Bioterrorism Research

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Testing of potential new vaccines against anthrax and the Ebola virus and basic research on how the immune system fends off invaders top the government's plans for how to spend some $1.2 billion in bioterrorism research funding.

Congress has not yet voted on the Bush administration's proposal to award the National Institutes of Health that amount for bioterrorism work.

But the NIH on Thursday unveiled its plans to explain the mesh of basic laboratory research and clinical studies necessary for battling the most worrisome bioterrorism agents: anthrax, smallpox, plague, tularemia, viral hemorrhagic fevers and botulism.

Such research, particularly studies focusing on the immune system, brings an added bonus, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NIH's bioterrorism chief. What scientists learn about how the immune system deals with, or is stumped by, a bioterrorist-caused disease should shed light on naturally occurring killers, too, he said.

The NIH's anti-bioterrorism agenda describes six major research categories:

1) Microbial biology, including unraveling the genetic structure of each bioterrorism agent, to understand how the bugs cause disease.

2) Better understanding of human immunology, important as a basis to create new vaccines, diagnostic tests and broadly acting drugs.

3) Developing new vaccines. Experimental candidates against the Ebola virus and better anthrax vaccines should soon enter clinical trials, the NIH said.

4) Hunting new treatments. Already NIH research has uncovered that an anti-AIDS drug called cidofovir may help treat smallpox.

5) Hunting more rapid tests to diagnose if someone is infected with a bioterrorism agent.

6) Developing the very tools needed to do such research, including more high-containment laboratories and animal models of the diseases.