National microbial risk center will help scientists get a handle on infectious diseases

10/24/05

EAST LANSING, Mich. Michigan State University unveils today the development of a new center that will help everyone from first responders to legislators deal with infectious diseases as well as bioterrorism threats.

Thanks to a $10 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Homeland Security, MSU will take the lead in the Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment (CAMRA) a consortium of scientists from seven universities with expertise in quantitative microbial risk assessment methods, biosecurity and infectious disease transmission through environmental exposure.

Joan Rose, a world-renowned scientist and Homer Nowlin Chair for water research at MSU, was named co-director of CAMRA a project she hopes will provide the tools needed to combat bioterrorism and ward off global outbreaks of infectious diseases.

"We've done a good job of developing the framework for chemical risks, but microbial risk assessment has received much less attention," she said. "We continue to struggle with these microbial risks and infectious disease outbreaks, including those that are spread intentionally via terrorism. The tools we develop will better prepare first responders and decision-makers to deal with these issues."

The center is the brainchild of Rose and Chuck Haas, an environmental engineer with Drexel University in Philadelphia. Shortly after receiving a request for proposals from EPA and the Department of Homeland Security, the two joined forces to assemble a team of scientists from across the country and created a model that they hope will help shape policy and create a global strategy for dealing with microbial risks.

"Chuck and I have been working together for years and often talked about the need for a better science base and framework for microbial assessment," Rose said. "So when we saw this opportunity to work together with Homeland Security and EPA, we jumped on it."

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said the center is a perfect fit for the university.

"We are very proud to take the lead in a nationwide effort to combat bioterrorism and proactively prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases across the globe," she said. "The fact that Dr. Rose was chosen to lead this effort is a testimony to her scientific knowledge and ability to lead a team of world-class scientists in such an important endeavor."

"MSU has a growing reputation as one of America's premier research institutions, and I am very pleased that the university has been chosen to take the lead in this crucial new exploration of our biological security," said Congressman Mike Rogers, a former FBI agent who serves on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. "MSU scientists, led by Dr. Rose, and the partner universities will be on the cutting edge of making our world more secure."

Rose said one of the main goals of the center is to connect science to the community.

"We want to make sure that first responders, regulators, policy-makers and health-care professionals have the tools they need to make decisions quickly when they see the potential for microbial outbreaks," she said. "The best way to do that is through early detection and a deeper understanding of how these diseases spread."

Other MSU personnel with responsibilities to CAMRA include Carole Bolin, professor, Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health; Syed Hashsham, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Ewen Todd, director of the National Food Safety and Toxicology Center.

The center is funded for five years and includes investigators from MSU, Drexel, the University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon University, Northern Arizona University, the University of Arizona and the University of California at Berkeley.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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