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August 1, 2002


Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats (SECEBT) Links Region's Research Universities and Public Health Programs

A partnership to combat biologic agents with increasing potential for harm

ATLANTA -- Leading research institutions and public health programs throughout the Southeast are joining forces in a new Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats (SECEBT).

The initiating partners are Emory University's Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center and collaborators within the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Medical College of Georgia, Morehouse School of Medicine, the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Other significant partners are expected to come on board over the next few weeks and months.

The Center also will work in close collaboration with state and federal agencies including the state health departments of Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers affiliated with the Center's medical school partners. Other collaborators include the Georgia Research Alliance, The Carter Center and Region IV, US Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services.

The Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats is designed as a partnership to combat biologic agents with increasing potential for harm. The war against dangerous biologic agents is fought with knowledge, research and communication. The Center addresses biologic threat agents by consolidating resources in basic research; vaccine development; pathogen surveillance; biomedical engineering; pharmacology; veterinary medicine; food safety; clinical recognition and treatment; and communication and training of scientists and health professionals. The SECEBT will develop new means of detecting, combating and preventing biologic threats, whether purposefully caused, as from terrorism, or from naturally occurring causes. The Center will use medical and community education to advance applications at the individual and community level.

Emory has committed significant resources to launch the multi-institution consortium, says Michael M. E. Johns, MD, executive vice president for health affairs. This is on top of a major investment by Emory in its own programs related to biologic threat. "At Emory we have a critical mass of resources in infectious diseases, vaccine development, emergency response, public health and other areas, as well as many decades of experience with emerging biologic threats such as anthrax and smallpox," says Dr. Johns. "But our longstanding partnerships with the neighboring U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many other organizations have shown us the exponential power of collaboration."

A longstanding partner in that collaboration, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, vice president for academic health affairs at Emory University and former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is senior advisor to the new Center.

The scope of activities planned for SECEBT reflects the broad range of resources in the partnership, including: access to biosafety level 4 (BSL4) laboratories where lethal airborne infectious agents can be studied; well-established vaccine centers able to develop and test vaccines; animal facilities, including a BSL3ag containment complex, primate center and veterinary medical college, and agricultural and toxic threat research; pharmacology research; biomedical engineering research; population-based surveillance programs; extensive trauma, emergency and other response systems; and strong state-wide communication systems to enable health professional training and the rapid dissemination of information about emerging biologic threats and the means of recognizing and combating them. The center's partner institutions include the most experienced scientific leaders world-wide in eradication and prevention of infectious disease threats including smallpox and anthrax, as well as internationally recognized leaders in tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, meningitis, influenza, and other diseases.

Projects underway at one or more of the initiating member institutions include:
  • Basic research programs in antibiotic resistance; newly emerging agents of naturally occurring biologic threats including influenza and tuberculosis; and highly toxic pathogens including Ebola virus, smallpox, and anthrax.
  • Research into human and animal immunologic response to infections and other biologic agents.
  • Early detection and warning of biologic threats.
  • Clinical recognition, including advances in diagnosis of disease, education of physicians and veterinarians in disease awareness, and clinical testing of new drug candidates and treatment regimens for emerging infections.
  • Communication approaches, including best methods to convey risk, structures to disseminate information to public health agencies, government officials, hospitals, medical and veterinary personnel, and the general public.
  • Education of students, graduates and health professionals in human and veterinary medicine, nursing, and public health on effective response to biologic threat.
  • Hospital (including trauma and emergency department) and community response to threats, including detailed plans to address access to facilities, emergency transportation, availability of medical supplies, chain of command, emergency power, rapid communication with staff and public health agencies, disease surveillance and other issues.
  • Expertise in outcomes research, risk assessment and public health policy.
  • Vaccine development against existing and potential emerging biologic threats, testing for vaccine safety, and novel methods of vaccine and drug delivery.
  • Annotation of a complete viral genome database.
  • Modeling of biologic threats.
  • Extensive animal surveillance program as sentinel system for biologic threats.
  • International collaborations with scientists in South Africa, the Republic of Georgia, China and Mexico.

"With 30 new infectious disease agents in the U.S. in just the past 30 years, along with the added threat of biologic terrorism, emerging infectious diseases will continue to be a major health issue for the United States," Dr. Koplan says. "Through the scientific and programmatic strengths of its diverse partners, the SECEBT will compound our ability to address these challenges rapidly and efficiently in seeking to prevent risk to the citizens of our region."

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