| September 4,
Penn To Be Part of New Regional Center
of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Disease
(Philadelphia, PA) - The University
of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has joined the
Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence (RCE)
for Biodefense and Emerging Diseases, a research consortium
unveiled today by the National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
A consortium of researchers from 16 biomedical research
institutions will carry out the NIAID's strategic plan
for biodefense research. Eight regional centers of excellence,
or RCEs, will be established nationwide with grants
totaling approximately $350 million over five years,
$42 million of which will go to the Middle Atlantic
RCE, to be led by the University of Maryland School
of Medicine. Penn investigators will receive an anticipated
$6.1 million over the course of this five-year grant.
The Middle Atlantic RCE will pursue the development
of vaccines against anthrax and smallpox, focus on emerging
infectious diseases such as West Nile Virus, and study
new approaches to fighting viruses that cause deadly
hemorrahagic fever, including Ebola and Marburg. The
consortium will also examine other potential bioterror
agents and the means to combat them. In addition, members
of the Middle Atlantic RCE will design tests for faster
detection of hazardous agents and innovative techniques
to ensure a rapid public health response to biological
attacks and outbreaks.
"In 1999, it was West Nile virus. In 2003, it was SARS.
In 2004, who knows? There are a multitude of potentially
dangerous viruses, bacteria and parasites that infect
animals and that could be transmitted to humans," said
Robert W. Doms, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair
of Penn's Department of Microbiology, and member of
the five-person Executive Committee for the Middle Atlantic
RCE. "Emerging infectious diseases are a real problem
that we all need to be concerned about. Penn scientists
are already leading research projects on West Nile virus,
Ebola virus and smallpox, with the goal of developing
vaccines and new therapeutics."
At the heart of the Middle Atlantic RCE are a number
of research projects. Of the 18 approved for funding,
five are underway at the University of Pennsylvania.
In addition to his leadership role for Penn, Doms is
developing a vaccine for West Nile virus. Stuart
Isaacs, MD, Assistant Professor from Penn's Division
of Infectious Diseases, is developing neutralizing antibodies
that will help stem the potential ill-effects of the
vaccinia virus that is used to vaccinate against smallpox.
John Lambris, PhD, Professor in Penn's Department
of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine is currently identifying
antigens targeted by antibodies in immunized humans
in order to engineer improved neutralizing antibodies.
Graham Simmons, PhD, a Research Associate in
Penn's Department of Microbiology is studying how the
Ebola virus gains entry into cells and how to block
it from doing so. Gary Cohen, PhD, of Penn's
School of Dental Medicine and Roselyn Eisenberg,
PhD, of Penn's School Veterinary Medicine are collaborating
on a vaccine to counter the ill effects of vaccinia
virus and confer additional protection against smallpox.
In addition to the University of Pennsylvania and the
University of Maryland, the Middle Atlantic RCE includes
researchers from the following institutions: Johns Hopkins
University, the University of Virginia, the Uniformed
Services University of Health Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic
Institute and State University, Georgetown University,
George Washington University, West Virginia University,
Drexel University, the University of Vermont, the University
of Missouri, Kansas City, the University of Maryland
Biotechnology Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University,
the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, and the University
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PENN Medicine is a $2.2 billion enterprise
dedicated to the related missions of medical education,
biomedical research, and high-quality patient care.
PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania
School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's
first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania
Health System (created in 1993 as the nation's first
integrated academic health system). Penn's School of
Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH
research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S.
News & World Report's most recent ranking of top research-oriented
medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and
700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide
for its superior education and training of the next
generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic
Penn Health System consists of four
hospitals (including its flagship Hospital of the University
of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation's
"Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report),
a faculty practice plan, a primary-care provider network,
three multispecialty satellite facilities, and home
health care and hospice.