Jeff and Christine's Homeland Security Blog

Homeland Security and Terrorism

The Biodefense Network: Countering Biological, Chemical, and Radiological Threats Through Medical Research

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In the tradition of the Manhattan Project, which brought great scientific minds together in a successful effort to field an atomic bomb before the Nazis could do so, the US is building a research and development network aimed at countering chemical, biological, and radiological attacks.  The project is a public-private partnership, meaning that government funding from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (part of the Department of Health and Human Services) is used to support research at private-sector institutions like Texas A&M University.

Homeland Security Newswire and the Associated Press both reported on the project during the week of 23 July 2012.  There will be five participating centers, with facilities in Texas, North Carolina, and Maryland.

According to the Associated Press, the Texas A&M center’s work will range from vaccine research to training medical professionals on Homeland Security threats like bioterrorism:

The center is tasked to use what A&M describes as “rapid, nimble and flexible approaches” to come up with vaccines against pandemic influenza; devise accelerated methods to develop those vaccines to licensure; develop therapies for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats; and train “the next generation of professionals” to sustain the nation’s capability in those areas.

Officials showed off labs where research already is focused on cancer-fighting drugs and where students can learn how to use the latest research equipment.

A unique warehouse-size structure where the air is filtered to remove microscopic particles and where people entering labs don protective garb to minimize what officials called “bioburden” will hold up to 20 mobile “clean rooms” the size of trailer homes costing up from $750,000 apiece. Six of the labs, which can float on a cushion of air like a puck on an air hockey table, already are in operation.

If a pandemic or bioterror attack occurs, the place is designed to suspend its day-to-day work, be reconfigured easily and focus entirely on finding and making a vaccine to combat the threat. The goal is to provide a vaccine in 12 weeks, about half the time it took researchers in 2009 to address the H1N1 – or swine flu – pandemic. As many as 50 million doses would then be manufactured within four months.

The project is a response to ongoing concern about bioterror threats.  In 2010, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation gave the government a failing grade for its efforts to prepare for and respond to a biological attack.  The new centers should be a strong step in the right direction.

 

Written by Homeland Security

July 26, 2012 at 02:48

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