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Big UCI Grant to Fund Germ Research

The $40-million award, largest in university history, will create a center to study ways to counter bioterrorism and infectious diseases.

June 03, 2005|Andrew Wang | Times Staff Writer

UC Irvine has been awarded a $40-million federal grant to research infectious diseases and bioterrorism.

The grant, to be distributed over four years by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is the largest in UCI's 40-year history and will fund the establishment of the Pacific-Southwest Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research, university officials said.

The center will be one of 10 around the country charged by the federal government to study how to counter threats from bioterrorism and infectious diseases.

Alan Barbour, who is slated to be the director, said the center would allow scientists and engineers to bring their skills to bear in a multidisciplinary approach to fighting infectious diseases.

Because the center will fund and administer projects at UCI and 16 other universities in California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii, "this provides an opportunity for people who work on infectious diseases to work in a larger group," Barbour said.

"Even in getting [the grant] organized," he said, "the people working with viruses talked to people working on bacteria, who were talking to engineers and computer scientists and people working with vaccines.

"It's really rare that we're all in the same room."

The center will, among other things, work on developing vaccines for naturally occurring diseases such as dengue fever and West Nile virus, and study bioterrorism agents such as botulin toxin and anthrax on a molecular level.

"This research center will use America's scientific expertise to assist our efforts for homeland security and overall public health," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee urged the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an arm of the National Institutes of Health, to award UCI the grant.

About 130 scientists and engineers will conduct research through the center, said Barbour, who in 1981 co-discovered the bacterium that causes Lyme disease and later developed a vaccine for it. The group will meet in July to discuss possible projects.

Although the grant will fund basic research, the center's work must translate into tangible results, Barbour said.

"We've worked hard to get to the point of getting this award, but there won't be much of a rest," he said.

"We're ready to move ahead with the research."

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