Flinn Scholars News
TGen, NAU secure $4.5 million to develop biowarfare-disease diagnostic
Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Northern Arizona University have won a highly competitive $4.5-million grant from the National Institutes of Health to design a diagnostic tool to for melioidosis, a highly contagious bacterial disease weaponized by the Soviet Union and the U.S. during the Cold War.
TGen North director and
NAU professor Paul Keim.
Photo courtesy of NAU.
Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Northern Arizona University (NAU) have won a highly competitive $4.5-million grant from the National Institutes of Health to design a diagnostic tool to for melioidosis, a highly contagious bacterial disease weaponized by the Soviet Union and the U.S. during the Cold War.
TGen North, directed by NAU professor Paul Keim, will conduct new research on Burkholderia pseudomallei, a surface-water- and soil-based bacterium known as "Burk," which occurs naturally in Southeast Asia and Australia and leads to thousands of cases and deaths each year. Soviet and U.S. stockpiles of Burk have been dismantled, but defense experts worry that remnants may exist. Dr. Keim's lab has one of the most comprehensive collections of Burk samples in the world.
"We have made great strides already with Burk and have identified genetic markers that predict the outcome of disease—essentially predicting whether or not a particular infection is destined to be fatal without prompt and aggressive treatment," said Dr. Keim, also the director of NAU's Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics.
The next step, Dr. Keim said, is to develop those markers into tools that would enable more rapid diagnosis of severe infections. Currently, that diagnosis might take days; the TGen-NAU team aims to cut the lag time to a matter of a few hours, a critical advantage in the event of a melioidosis outbreak.
David Wagner, associate director of the Center for Microbial Genetics, will lead NAU's portion of the project. Scientists at the Menzies School of Health Research in Australia will provide clinical expertise.
Because melioidosis "does not occur naturally in the United States, international collaborations are absolutely crucial," Dr. Wagner said. "Our partners in Australia bring more than 20 years of experience of working directly with melioidosis in a clinical setting. TGen brings their excellent skills in developing rapid, accurate diagnostic tools, and NAU brings years of experience of working with Burkholderia pseudomallei in the laboratory."
For more information:
"NAU, TGen win $4.5M grant," The Arizona Daily Sun, 11/20/2007