UI part of project to study infectious diseases

URBANA – The University of Illinois will join 12 other Midwestern universities and research institutions as part of a regional center to study infectious diseases.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health, announced the selection of the institutions that will make up the Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research today. The center will be headed by scientists from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. The UI's Urbana and Chicago campuses will be part of the center.

The NIH is establishing eight such regional centers around the country. The project was driven by concerns about bioterrorism and a high priority will be placed on research on diseases caused by organisms that could be used as bioterror agents, said Olaf Schneewind, a professor of molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago and one of the heads of the regional center, in a press release.

But the research also will aid in the fight against all infectious diseases, such as SARS or West Nile virus. The Midwestern center will focus on diagnosis, treatment and vaccines for anthrax, botulism, tularemia, hemorrhagic fever viruses and plague.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases plans to invest more than $7 million a year for five years in the Midwestern center, and a total of $350 million over five years for all the centers.

The research teams for the Midwestern center will include more than 300 scientists. UI researchers from the Urbana campus associated with the new research center are: Paul Bohn, chemistry; Mengfei Ho, microbiology; Neil Kelleher, chemistry; Mark Shannon, mechanical and industrial engineering; Joanna Shisler, microbiology; Jonathan Sweedler, chemistry; Brenda Wilson, microbiology; John Xu, microbiology; and Peter Mo-Ping Yau, director of proteomics at the UI's biotechnology center.

The center will give support to public health officials during a bioterror outbreak or the emergence of a new disease.

You can reach Jodi Heckel at (217) 351-5216 or by e-mail at jheckel@news-gazette.com.

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