Center for Biodefense Committed to Research and Education

Posted: October 22, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Patty Snellings

The Center for Biodefense, formed last year as a collaborative research effort with Advanced Biosystems Inc. (ABS), a subsidiary of Alexandria-based Analex Corp., is positioning itself to meet the challenges to national and international security posed by the threat of bioterrorism. The center, housed at the Prince William Campus, is committed to increasing awareness of the medical and public health threats posed by biological weapons, developing medical defense treatments, providing advice and education to government agencies in an academic environment, and preparing students for a new era of scientific research.

“The center will address issues of infectious diseases caused by biological weapons, which are different from diseases resulting from natural causes,” says Kenneth Alibek, executive director of the center, who previously served as the first deputy chief of the civilian branch of the former Soviet Union’s offensive biological weapons program. “It is important to understand the differences in the pathogens. Vaccines provide limited defense after a victim is exposed to biological warfare agents.”

Alibek explains that another objective of the center is to educate a new generation of researchers who better understand biological weapons threats and how to mitigate them. Master’s and doctoral degree programs in biodefense currently are being developed, and classes may begin as early as next fall.

The new degree programs are a joint effort between the center and the Department of Biology. “Biology faculty members in microbiology, immunology, biochemistry, and human physiology will provide structural support for development of the curricula for the degree programs,” says Paulette Royt, department chair. “Graduate courses in these areas already are well-established, and mechanisms for shared curricular offerings such as seminars, lectures, and symposia are in place.”

Alibek acknowledges that the progress of the center has been slow because of recent economic instability. Grant proposals are being submitted to the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Army, and other government agencies. “Biodefense is a government issue,” he says.

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