A consortium of research centers in the Tri-state Region, including Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, has received a $46 million grant to conduct research on emerging infectious diseases.

The grant, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health, will allow the continuation of activities of the Northeast Biodefense Center (NBC).

Established in 2002, NBC is the largest Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases research in the U.S. NBC investigators conduct interdisciplinary research on diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines to address the challenges of emerging infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. Highlights of NBC's work over the past few years include creation of diagnostics used to guide containment of the SARS outbreak in Beijing in 2003, insights into pandemic influenza enabled by resurrection of the 1918 influenza virus, and new vaccines and drugs for emerging infectious diseases.

"The magic of the NBC is that it has brought for the first time many regional institutions that had no history of collaboration in a joint effort to protect our society from a wide range of emerging infectious diseases," says NBC's deputy director Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D., the Leo and Julia Forchheimer Professor and chair of microbiology & immunology at Einstein. "Groups that previously had never interacted are now working together to develop diagnostics, vaccines, and drugs against many types of infectious diseases. The net result has been greater progress, communication, coordination, and preparedness to meet existing and future biological threats to our health and wellbeing."

"The NBC was established by the local scientific community in response to the vulnerability we recognized acutely in the aftermath of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks that followed," adds the center's director, W. Ian Lipkin, M.D., the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health and professor of Neurology and Pathology at Columbia University Medical Center. "We have worked together across disciplines and institutions to develop diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines to address the challenges of emerging infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. These collaborations have enabled insights into lethal organisms as well as tools to detect, prevent, and treat infectious diseases. With globalization, the need for this type of research has never been greater."

Five Einstein researchers are involved in NBC, including Dr. Casadevall, who is developing passive immunization strategies for anthrax.

Bettina C. Fries, M.D., associate professor of medicine and microbiology & immunology, is developing monoclonal antibody-based therapies against Staphylococcus enterotoxin B (SEB), a toxin released by Staphylococcal bacteria, the cause of staph infection. "In humans, SEB toxin can cause lethal shock at low doses," says Dr. Fries. "It is commercially available and classified as a category B biological warfare agent, the lower of two levels of biological agents. Toxin-mediated diseases are inherently difficult to treat. At this point, developing neutralizing antibodies remains the best option."

Matthew D. Scharff, M.D., distinguished professor of cell biology and of medicine and the Harry Eagle Professor of Cancer Research/National Women's Division, is conducting studies to improve the efficacy of monoclonal antibody therapies for preventing or treating various infectious diseases.

Margaret Kielian, Ph.D., professor of cell biology, is studying the mechanisms that dengue and chikungunya viruses use to enter cells. These viruses infect tens of million of people worldwide, causing serious, debilitating illness, characterized by fever and joint pain.

Steve Almo, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and physiology & biophysics, is producing new protein reagents that will be used in animal models to stimulate the production of unique antibodies for novel diagnostics and therapeutics.

NBC comprises more than 350 scientists and 28 institutions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Other lead institutions include Cornell University, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Public Health Research Institute, Rockefeller University, Stony Brook University, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Wadsworth Center-New York State Department of Health, and Yale University.

Deirdre Branley
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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